Lesson 1 - Friday Jan 23rd 2004
Yehaa! I finally get to fly in a plane. Today, after three postponed lessons, I finally got off the ground. It was an excellent experience, and I'm already looking forward to my next lesson.
The introductory lesson (or "demo") is not really a lesson, but what the heck, I'm going to count it as lesson one. After all I learnt a few things, and I did actually fly the plane for a while.
So, It's a beautiful day, clear skies, and light wind from the ocean - a perfect day to fly. I arrive at the airport at 11:15 AM, right on time, and find a parking space right outside the Justice Aviation offices. I take this to be a good sign, and immediately I enter the office, Tanya says hello, and hands me a headset and we go out to the plane.
It's a Piper PA 28-161, again, N8148H. Tanya did some preflight checks inside the cockpit, I wandered around and took photos. (Note, these are thumbnails, click on the photo for a bigger picture.)
Tanya did the same preflight check as before, but a bit quicker than last time. As she drew fuel to check it, I asked what would happen if there was water in the fuel. She said just drain more out until it's clear. It should not happen so long as the tanks are filled every night to prevent condensation. The drained fuel (in small quantities) is just dumped on the tarmac. She mentioned that some states have laws preventing this. I'm surprised that California does not, as it would seem all that fuel would seem into the ground. Maybe it just evaporates.
So, Tanya continues with the preflight. Here she is checking the oil, with a dipstick, just like in the car.
Then we are ready to go. I put my camera away at this point, and don't get it out until we turn around to come back in, and I'm having far too much fun.
Before even turning on the plane you have to run through a whole bunch of things on a checklist. Each plane comes with it's own checklist, on a laminated card. Tanya runs through it fairly fast, then flips a whole bunch of switches, then cranks the engine. It takes a couple of goes to get going, but eventually roars into life.
We put on our headsets. Everything works fine this time, but I quickly discover that my soft mumbling voice won't cut it in a noisy cockpit. You have to talk loud enough to switch the microphone on. I had to kick my voice up a couple of notches. Speak with confidence!
So, we switch on the radio and listen to the ATIS information, which is goes something like "Santa Monica Tower Information Victor ..." then they give the weather report, and any other information. When you contact Santa Monica by ground you have to tell them what "Information" you have. Like "Santa Monica Ground, this is Piper 148 Hotel with Victor, request taxi from Justice to runway 21", which is what Tanya does. Ground clears us, Tanya confirms, and we start to roll.
The taxiing seems fairly straightforward. We don't go too fast, steering is done with the feet, although I'm not sure if its the rudder or the brakes, or both. Anyway, we taxi up to runway 21, and stop.
Then Tanya run through a few more checks, which I've totally forgotten, and we contact the tower to request takeoff (something like "Santa Monica Tower, this is Piper 148 Hotel with victor, request takeoff, runway 21". And the tower responds "Piper 148H, hold short while that Cessna comes in", or something similar. There was a lot of traffic, and we had to wait for a jet to take off, and a couple of other planes to land. Then we taxi onto the runway, and very quickly start accelerating down the runway.
I'm still not doing anything. Tanya is piloting the plane, and I just sit there. It seems very smooth, actually much smoother than I had anticipated. Tanya makes keeping the plane straight look very easy, and it only seems like a few seconds before we "rotate", and life the nose to take off. We glide effortlessly into the sky.
It's a bit disorienting at first, as we are climbing, you can't the ground in front of you. Which makes me feel a little nervous. As we get past the end of the runway, Tanya does a little turn to the left to take us over the golf course, which is required to comply with noise ordinances, although I'm not sure exactly how much it can help. As we bank left, I can look down and see the VOR, which looks like a giant ring of circular, err, things... I'll try to get photo of it sometime.
We keep climbing, and turn as we pass over the coast (passing right over my house). It feels strange not being able to see much out the front of the plane, but you can see perfectly well to the left and the right of the nose.
You want me to steer!?
Tanya tells me to put my hand on the yoke, and steer a little. I try to keep the plane flying straight, which actually feels easier than in Flight Simulator. The main problem I have, that very quickly becomes apparent, is that there are so many things to keep track of that I quickly forget something. So if I look at the airspeed, the plane will drift off to the side. If I correct that, then I've absolutely no idea what anything else is set to. I think keeping track of everything will be quite a task, and will only come with lots of practice.
We fly up the coast a bit, and then we've reached 4000 feet, and Tanya levels us out. I immediately feel a lot better, as the forward visibility greatly improves. I look around, the view is amazing.
No time to admire the view though. Tanya tells me to do a few turns, where I turn with the yoke, (the ailerons), and she controls the rudder. She tells me to put my feet on my pedals so I can feel when she moves them. I then do some light turns (at this point we are somewhere approaching Topanga Canyon). I think either my turns were too wimpy, or my feet lack feeling, as I could hardly feel the rudder pedals move as turned. Seems straightforward though, left rudder with left aileron. Unfortunately my "number of things I can think about at once" is pretty low at this point, approximately 0.5, so doing two things at once was pretty much beyond my capabilities.
We do a few more turns, and then we do a big descending turn, descending to 3500 feet. Tanya said we should be on an odd multiple of 500 feet when going this way (South). Sounds sensible, I'll have to look that up. Anyway, we are heading back towards the airport, and it's finally time to get my camera out:
Here's a random bunch of photos I took
Approaching the Pattern
We approach the airport. I can see it in the distance (it's on the right hand side half way down the first photo above, see the rough line of white hangers), and we basically fly straight towards it. Tanya says we are going into the "Right Pattern", meaning we will fly downwind with the runway on our right, out past the end of the runway, and then make two 90 degree right turns to face the runway and land.
At this point I do no further flying at all, just sit back and watch, taking a few pictures.
As we get closer, Tower asks us to do a 360, as they want to space us out more. We do a leisurely 360 degree turn, and then confirm "right pattern downwind" (or something) with the tower.
Now, this is quite a steep turn, and is the only point in the flight that I actually feel a little queasy. It very quickly passes though, like the world's shortest roller coaster ride.
Then it's time to approach to land. We turn facing the runway,
there it is in the distance!
Tanya then does a "slip", which is where you bank the plane one way, while turning it the other way with the rudder. This flies the plane slightly sideways, exposing a greater surface area to forward wind, increasing drag, and slows the plane down. This lets us drop to a better speed at the right height, and we are ready to land:
Perfect landing. It's smoother than a passenger jet. We slow down, leave the runway, perform some checks, then contact Ground for permission to taxi back to Justice.
All in all a very enjoyable flight. Excellent views, very smooth takeoff, flight and landing, and I got to fly the plane a bit! On getting back to the office, I've booked my next lesson (my first real lesson), with Tanya at 11AM on Monday.