Lesson Zero

Various attempts



Day 1 - Sunday, January 18, 2004 Ė Pre Flight

Day 2 - Monday, January 19, 2004 Ė In a Plane

Day 3 - Tuesday, January 20, 2004 Ė Bad Weather

Day 4 - Thursday, January 22, 2004 Ė Too Windy!


Day 1 - Sunday, January 18, 2004 Ė Pre Flight


Well, after several years of  putting it off, I finally have no more excuses.  Iíve booked my first flying lesson.  9AM tomorrow morning.


Iím a bit nervous.  I think in part because Iíve been thinking of doing this for so long, and maybe Iím afraid I wonít even enjoy it, and just give up after this first lesson.  But something deep inside of me tells me Iím going to enjoy it immensely, and immediately want to book my next lesson.


Weíll seeÖ..


So, I feel now like I know quite a lot about flying.  But I also know the next few weeks will shine new light onto exactly how little I know. 


This state of mind, the state of mine of just starting to learn to fly, is something that will only happen once.  So I thought it would be interesting to document how I feel about it before starting, and to say what my expectations are.


My flight instructor for the introductory flight is called Tanya.  My mental picture of her at this point is of a 45 year old woman, short, with short hair, glasses, or average build, wearing comfortable clothes.  Obviously I will be entirely wrong.  It just remains to be seen exactly how entirely wrong I will be.


I image she will sit down with me, fill in a few forms, and then discuss the basics of flying for a while.   Iíll discuss what Iíve done in Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS), and sheíll try to ascertain the limits of my knowledge without actually laughing.


I feel I know the fundamentals, at least to a certain simple level. 


To take off you:

-         Turn on the engine

-         Take off the brakes.

-         Increase throttle to move forward

-         Move onto the end of the runway

-         Flaps full on

-         Full throttle

-         Accelerate down the runway until above stall speed (like 60K)

-         Pull back on the controller, and the plane will lift off

-         Climb to desired altitude


Level flight

-         trim plane (adjust the fixed position of the elevators) until the plane is flying level.  Adjust throttle as needed



-         Increase throttle, and pull up the nose a bit.

-         If you JUST pull up the nose, the plane will rise, but will loose airspeed



-         Decrease throttle. The plane will descend.  You can help it by pushing the nose down a bit, but watch the airspeed.



-         Use the ailerons to banks the plane, and the rudder to correct for the turning effect generated in the opposite direction.  Now, this is something that I know in theory, but in practice Iíve always just turned by banking, and Iíve never really used the rudder.  You donít get much feedback.


Pattern Flying

-         Air traffic around an airport should enter the ďpatternĒ, which is a rectangular path consisting of left turns that ensures that all landing planes approach the airport from the same direction.  There are four legs (sides of the rectangle), which I canít say Iíve really memorized the names of, but itís crosswind, downwind, base and final.  Final is for landing.



            - Got to get lined up with the runway (which you usually do with a slow descending turn from the base leg to the final leg).     Then you need to be at the right height (under 1000 feet when starting to descend), and slow (60K?), on low power you glide in, adjusting throttle as needed, you should ideally land by stalling in level flight about one inch below the ground.  So basically you approach the runway at the shallowest angle you can fly at with throttle off, aimed for a spot near the start of the runway.


Itís pretty hard landing in  MSF, as doing the base leg you canít really look out the window very easily and line up you final turn with runway.  I anticipate this aspect will be a little easier in a real plane, as you have a lot more freedom of vision.


Taking off, on the other hand, is very easy in MSF.  This might be harder in Real Life (RL), as the forces acting on the plane will be a lot more real, and distracting.


Well, letís see.  I can hear a plane going overhead right now.  They fly overhead all day, just stopping at 11PM.


My flight might be delayed tomorrow if itís a bit foggy, but weíd just reschedule at 13:00.



Day 2 - Monday, January 19, 2004 Ė In a Plane


Well, I went for my first flying lesson.  Unfortunately we never got of the ground, but it was still an interesting start.


In the morning Tanya called about 8:30AM, to say it was a bit foggy, and sheíd call me back in half an hour to see if it had cleared up. 


She called back, and it had not cleared up, so we re-scheduled for 1:15PM.  Not a problem.


So, I installed Flight Simulator 2004 instead.  Which took up a bit of time, as I had to download new video card drivers.  But I got it working, and took off and landed a few times from SMO (Santa Monica).  I used the Cessna 172 at first, then tried a low wing plane.


It was fun, the graphics seem somewhat improved, and a bit faster. Although itís a lot harder to make out the freeways near SMO than in FS 2002.  Frame rate seems smoother.


After lunch I drove up to the airport.  Justice Aviation is in the General Aviation building, on the ground floor in the office right at the right hand end.  I went in, and Tanya was there behind the counter filling in some paperwork.  Somewhat unlike my mental picture formed over the phone.  She looks around 30 years old, tall and thin, no glasses.  Speaks with a  slight accent, canít place it though. 


She said hello, and filled in some paperwork (unrelated to me), and we walked out to the plane.  I didnít have to sign anything, which I found a bit surprising.  Iíd have though at least a waiver, or something.


Anyway, all the Justice planes are in a gated area that has access to the runway. We walked up to the plane, and she told me the differenced between a high wing and low wing airplane are that a high wing plane has a gravity fed fuel system, whereas the low wing has a fuel pump.  Low wings are more stable as well, she says. 


We walk past a bunch of planes, mostly high wings, like Cessnas, and arrive at our plane. A Piper,   


You can look up this planeís registration at:


Itís a Piper Archer PA-28-181, made in 1980.  Currently for sale.  I think the owner leases it to Justice.


Anyway, we get to the plane, and Tanya starts to do the pre-flight check.  First checking the flaps and ailerons move correctly.  She explains something about he elevation being all in on piece.  She checks the fuel by drawing some off at three locations around the plane, and checking it looks right.  She then checks the oil level, and checks the prop for cracks.  All is well.


So, we push the plane back.  Itís kind of parked head in, whereas the other planes are all backed into their spots.  We push, but it does not move, someone left the brake on.  Take the brake off. Tanya has a steel shaft with a U shape at one end, and a T shaped handle at the other.  The U shape slots around the nose-wheel, and she pushes with the T shape.  This allows her to steer the plane by turning the nose-wheel.


So, we get it into position, she then realizes sheís forgotten my headset, and goes back to get it.  While she is away, I take a couple of photos of the plane, and of the instrument cluster.


This shows the plane after weíve pushed it into position.  There is just one door, on the right.  The stuff on the wing is Tanyaís headset and notebook.


Hereís the view in through the door. 


Pretty standard looking instrument clusters, not that I got to use themÖ..



When she returns, we get in the plane.  I get in first, as Iím in the ďPilotĒ seat on the left.  We buckle up. 


Tanya now attempts to start the plane.  She primes the engine, which Iím not really sure what that is, but seems to be pre loading some fuel into something.  Thereís a little plunger that does this.  She then cranks it a few times, and the engine splutters, but nothing happens.  After several attempts she figures its flooded, and uses the ďflooded engine startĒ procedure, and eventually it starts.  It roars into life, and settle down.  Itís not too loud really.


Itís getting pretty hot by this point, as you can see in the photo, thereís a lot of glass, and no AC, and we are just sitting there in the sun.  I take of my sweater, and open a little window set in the left side window to let in some air.  


Then,  we put on our headsets.  Say ďcheck-checkĒ a few times, but unfortunately nothing happens.  She wiggles the wires for a while, and flips switches and twiddles knobs, but nothing works.  The intercom only works intermittently when she jiggles the wires.   She canít get it to work, and we canít fly without working headsets (canít use the radio, let alone talk to each other).  So she pulls the plug in that plane.


We go back to the office to try to set up another plane, but itís getting late, and itís a bit cloudy (although I suspect she just wanted something else to say other than ďIíve got another lesson scheduledĒ).  So we have now rescheduled for 3PM tomorrow (Tuesday).  Tanya was very apologetic.  I was quite disappointed, but itís not really a problem, itís like Iím getting into it really slowly.  


Weíll probably use a different plane tomorrow. 



Day 3 - Tuesday, January 20, 2004 Ė Bad Weather


Grr!  Cancelled again!   This time just because of the weather, which is currently:


2004-01-20 21:51 KSMO 202151Z 22006KT 10SM BKN048 16/08 A2999 RMK AO2 SLP156 T01560083


The ď10SMĒ there means ďVisibility 10 milesĒ, it was at 5 miles when they called.  The weather is improving, so I think they are being overly cautious.  Or perhaps they just want the ďdemo flightĒ to be in perfect weather, so I get so amazed at the stunning view that I immediately book twenty lessons.


Anyway.  Iím booked again for Thursday at 3:30 thatís not for TWO DAYS!  Grrr!


So, Iím playing more flight simulatorÖ


Thatís me taking off from SMO.  In a Piper, which I had to buy separately from FlightSimulator,  for an extra $20.  Grrr!


Supposedly the weather you see above was downloaded in real time.  But it looks a lot worse than that out of the window right now.   But still, basically just haze, with clouds at 4000ft.


Hereís a satellite photo of SMO.  Click on it for the full resolution version.



The General Aviation building is the white rectangle underneath the runway just to the right of the center of the picture.  The area below that has lots of planes lines up.  Thatís where I spend my 15 minutes in a plane yesterday, before the mission was aborted.


Eventually we will taxi round to the right hand end (runway 21) and head on out.


This is what the weather looked like on today (Tuesday):



Day 4 - Thursday, January 22, 2004 Ė Too Windy!


And hereís what the weather looks like today (Thursday):


Brilliant, you can see all the way to Catalina (thatís that strip of land on the horizon, just to the left of center).  Seems like a perfect day.  Just a bit blustery.


So I arrive at the airport, into the Justice office and Tanya tells me that we canít fly today because itís too windy.  She said even the jets were having difficulty landing.  Bah!  So, we re-scheduled for 11:15 tomorrow morning.  The forecast for tomorrow looks perfect.  Fingers crossed.


The weather report (from http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/metar.shtml) is:


KSMO 222351Z 36009KT 10SM CLR 23/M07 A3009 RMK AO2 SLP188 T02281067 10244 20183 55012


I think thatís 23:51GMT, so 15:51PST, shortly after I got to the airport.    Winds 9KT,  which does not seem to bad, but I think maybe inaccurate earlier it was winds 20K gusting to 40K, and it was pretty gusty at the airport.   Maybe if we could have waited an hour things might have been better.


Tanya pointed me in the direction of the observation deck.  This is pretty cool, a nice seating area right next to the runway, where you can watch the planes takeoff and land.  They also pipe the radio traffic to a loudspeaker in the area, so you can hear exactly what is going on.  Soon people will be hearing my quavering voice come over those loudspeakers.


So I stayed there for a while and took some photos.  These are all thumbnails as this page is getting rather large for my modem using relatives.  Click on each picture for a bigger one.


This is the view down the runway towards the ocean (you can see the ocean glinting behind the guy on the fire escape)


And hereís the view the other way.  You can actually see the Hollywood sign, although itís about two pixels wide.  See the guy with the orange hat?  See the building slight up and to the left of his hat, then the Hollywood sign is the miniscule white dash just to the left of the top of that building.



Hereís a plane.  I think itís a Piper.  It had just switched on the engine, and took off a few minutes later.  Bah!  That should have been me!    Thatís the control tower on the right.


This twin engine plane (a 1979 Cessna 414A, worth $450K)  had just landed on runway 3.   You can see the wind blowing the flag and the trees.  The buildings on the right in the background are where Activision has their offices (I used to work at Neversoft, which is owned by Activision.  Unfortunately Neversoftís offices were in the Valley).


Right Ė Back to flight simulatorÖ


I think one effect of each of these postponements is that I get a little less nervous each time.  Iíve had the build up three times now, and each time nothing has come of it, so itís kind of like Iíve got the fear out of my system.


At least until we get off the groundÖÖ.



Day 5 - Friday, January 23, 2004


Weather report before I set offÖ.


2004-01-23 17:51 KSMO 231751Z VRB04KT 10SM CLR 18/M03 A3015 RMK AO2 SLP207 T01831028 10183 20083 53009


Variable winds at 4 Knots, 10 Miles vis, clear skys.   This has to be the day!!!  What could possibly go wrong?


Click here to find out!


©2004 Mick West