Saturday, February 05, 2005


Flying Lesson #1

Technically, today's lesson may not be my first lesson. I had an introductory flight lesson a few weeks ago, but today was my first "real" lesson. Also, because I haven't had my medical exam yet, I can't officially be enrolled as a student under part 141, so maybe this one really doesn't count. But, anyway, I'm calling this Lesson #1.

My first mistake: scheduling a lesson at 7:30 AM, requiring that I awaken at 6:00 AM. I strongly believe that if an alarm clock wakes you up, you haven't had enough sleep. I did get about six hours of sleep, so I wasn't a complete zombie, but I wasn't as fresh as I would have liked. I've decided that I will not schedule any future lessons before 9:00 AM.

Another problem with the early morning flight was the presence of ice/frost on the airplane. We needed two de-icing applications to get it all off. We had to run the defroster at full blast in the cockpit to keep the windows clear, so it was like a sauna inside the plane. So, I'm going to avoid early-morning cold weather flights from now on.

Aside from the temperature, it was a nice day to fly: sunny with clouds at 30,000 ft, 3 mph wind. Visibility was a lot better than what I had on my intro flight. The airport wasn't busy.

I met my flight instructor, who I will refer to only as "the instructor" in this blog just in case I write something that might reflect badly on him. He just started instructing at the school a few days ago, having just moved up here from Orlando. He's only 23 years old, but he seems to know what he's doing. I know my school's management has high standards for hiring instructors, so his youth doesn't bother me except for the way it makes me feel a little bit older.

The first thing we did after some brief introductory conversation was to get weather reports. The school's Internet access wasn't working, so he used DUATS to get the information. We also watched the Weather Channel as a cross check.

We spent most of our time today going over the preflight checklist. The instructor showed me how to check all the things on the Piper Warrior. It took almost an hour to go through it all with him explaining it, but it will go a lot faster as I gain experience doing it myself. Here are some of the important lessons I learned that aren't in the book:

After the preflight was finished, we got in the plane to fly. Again, we went through every item in the checklist in detail, so it took a much longer time than it normally would. (Instructor Tip: On a cold day, as soon as you get in the plane, "wear" your headset on one of your legs, one earpiece on each side, so that it will be warm by the time you put it on your head.)

The instructor's original plan had been to let me handle the taxiing, but we were running a little late so he took care of it himself. We needed a long runup due to the temperature, but we eventually took off from runway 20L, with me handling the yoke and the instructor giving me instructions.

We turned and flew toward the north practice area. Visibility was great. My intro flight was on a hazy day, so I had not been able to see anything more than 10 miles away. It was much different today. The instructor pointed to a runway off to the west and asked, "Do you know what that is?" My first guess was Fulton County airport (KFTY), but it was really Dobbins Air Reserve Base (KMGE). I was surprised at how big and clear the runway looked, considering that it would be about a 30-minute drive on the ground. After my intro lesson, I had thought that Microsoft Flight Simulator made everything too easy to see, but now I'm more impressed with the simulation's realism.

He quickly identified a bad habit of mine: I kept putting both hands on the yoke. I didn't have a "death grip", but he wanted me to fly with only one hand. He kept slapping my right hand whenever I put it on the yoke, hitting me a little harder each time. By the time he pulled out his pencil and threatened to stick it into my hand, I was getting used to the one-hand thing.

My apartment happens to be in the north practice area, so we did the let's-fly-over-my-house thing. It's really hard for me to identify things from the air: The instructor would point out things saying "There's North Point Mall. There's the Wal-Mart. There's that Chevron station." but to me it all looked like randomly scattered factories. But I did eventually pick out the water towers that are a mile or so away from my apartment, and from there I was able to find my apartment building. It was tiny, and this was from only 2,500 AGL. I'm sure this will get easier with experience.

I did a few turns and climbs. I sucked, of course, but it's only my second time at the controls. The instructor demonstrated some steep turns, which were cool, and also did a few roller-coaster-kinds of climbs and dives.

Then we went back to the airport. I flew directly toward the north end of runway 20R from where we were (to the NW). The instructor had me manage the throttle and flaps, but of course he took care of most of the final approach and landing. It's disconcerting how things can be so smooth up at altitude and then suddenly get so turbulent near the ground. The landing was a little hard, but considering all the bouncing around on approach, I thought it was fine.

After turning off the runway and stopping, we had to call for permission to taxi to the school's parking area. This is a little silly, as the parking area is only about 25 yards from the point where we exited the runway. But it does cross a taxiway, so clearance is needed.

All in all, I didn't feel as comfortable today as I did in my intro flight. I'm not sure what it was, but it just seemed a lot easier the first time. Maybe it was the early morning, maybe it was mental fatigue after all the preflight stuff, maybe I was trying too hard to learn instead of just enjoying it, or maybe it was just one of those days. I did get a lot more flying in, and had more control over the plane and understanding of how to perform the maneuvers, but I never got into a groove where I felt comfortable. I'm not discouraged; it's all part of the learning process.

So, I got to log 0.9 hours dual time in N4636D, with 1 takeoff and 1 landing. Cost of instruction and rental: $140.60. If I'm lucky, maybe I only have about 49 lessons to go. Next lesson: Wednesday at 9:30 AM

On my way out of the airport, I stopped at the Wings & Things pilot shop and picked up a kneeboard. I'd been holding the checklists between my legs throughout the flight, and I decided I didn't want to do that again. I'm also ordering some Serengeti sunglasses, which may be overpriced but at least I won't wonder if I could have found something better. My next major equipment purchase will probably be a radio headset, but I want to solicit more opinions from other people before selecting one.

So are you hooked yet? I was hooked on my first flight and never looked back! Good luck with your training and watch out for the "suction" effect over that pit at runway 20R... Warriors drop like a stone as it is!
Go for a noise cancelling headset. Consider Telex and Lightspeed. Don't buy one without trying it on for at least fifteen minutes (put it on and then sit down with a book).

If you decide to buy a less expensive headset at first you won't regret it, the way you might have with the sunglasses, because before too long you will want a spare one to lend to your passengers.

And make sure you look out the window at the horizon and memorize where it is supposed to be during level flight and turns.
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