Tuesday, December 8, 2009



12/8/2009. GIF to GIF. Four basics, climbs, descents, turns, power off stall, traffic pattern entry. 1 landing. 1.1 hours.

12/8/2009. GIF to GIF. Four basics. 0 landings. 0.7 hours.

Grand total: 18.2 hours

I got hours! I got to fly! What an exciting day. After months of wanting to do it I was able to sit in the left seat and fly. It felt good to be reintroduced to the airplane and get reacquainted with the skies.

The view from the right seat, on my second flight of the day.

I drove out to Winter Haven this morning and managed to find my way to the FBO my instructor operates from. After some wandering around and nodding at people like I knew what I was doing, I found the front desk and completed some paperwork just in time to meet my instructor coming through the door.

My CFI is a local fellow named Bryan who has flown as an airline pilot in the past. He left the airlines on his own accord to change things up a little, and now flies as a CFI while pursuing his CPA to eventually open an accounting business. We made our introductions, grabbed our flight gear and headed to the plane. I was very excited to get to use my new headset, which I purchased at the AOPA summit in Tampa this fall, and it only took me two tries to figure out how to plug it in.

Bryan started the lesson with a vital component of every flight: the preflight. With flight school airplanes there's usually less to watch for since the planes get flown heavily, but it's important to check all flight controls and as many components as possible before getting airborne.

We began by inspecting the engine oil level and draining the carburetor to make sure no water or other impurities had accumulated in there between flights. We checked the prop and looked inside the cowling for bird nests, mice, snakes, or any other abnormal things that may have decided to make the cowling their home. Moving on we inspected the wing and the control surfaces, and also inspected the fuel tanks to make sure we had enough gas. The fuel gauges in planes only need to be accurate on "Empty" according to regulations, so visually seeing how much fuel is in the tanks is an important part of the preflight check. The empennage (the tail assembly) is checked as are the rudder and the elevators. The wheels are inspected to be sure they aren't square or flat, and the brakes are examined to be sure you can stop when you come back to earth. The remainder of the preflight is visually inspecting the outside of the plane for dents, dings, missing screws, and so on.

After a thorough preflight we hopped in and started the plane up. Taxiing was harder than I remembered and I swerved like a drunk through the parking lot and taxiway, though I suspect with practice it will become easier. Before takeoff we did an engine "run up," where you throttle up about 1/2 way and check the magnetos (magnetic coils that provide power) and the carburetor heat. After verifying that the engine was good, we taxiied into position and took off.

Takeoff was a thrill. I have not taken a plane off in almost a decade, and it was a little bit of a drunken takeoff, something I will have to learn to coordinate better over time. Bryan told me to use smaller inputs on the controls, and after a few minutes getting used to the feel of the yoke in my hands I was better able to coordinate motion. We flew North and practiced the Four Basics: Climbs, Descents, Turns, and Straight & Level Flight.

Climbing and descending is mostly about power management. In a small single engine plane at least, climbing requires full power, cruise somewhat less than full, and descent somewhat less than cruise. Takeoff power is about 2700 RPM, cruise about 2400, descent in the 2200 neighborhood. To manage your climbs and descents in VFR flight, one should find the proper position of the plane, then look outside and hold the sight picture. The horizon should stay relatively in the same position as you change altitude. We worked on power-off stall recovery, which involves pointing down to regain airspeed and trying to get power back. If it happens close to the ground, well, just aim for something flat and try to get what airspeed you can to recover.

Turns are more complex. Bryan talked about vectors of lift, which I will have to research in one of my flying tomes, but basically it is the tendency of a banking plane to want to descend. Slight back-pressure on the controls is necessary to maintain altitude during a turn. We made all turns to a heading, and did both shallow banks and banks with up to a 45-degree bank angle.

Bryan takes us through a steep turn in a Cessna 150.

Eventually the lesson was over and it was time to return to the field. Bryan helped me enter the traffic pattern and then turn, but he performed the landing after I overshot the turn from the downwind to the base leg*.

After the lesson, he took me up again as a passenger in a friend's airplane. I didn't touch the controls, as this was not a flight school plane, but it was neat to review with Bryan the proper procedures and the maneuvers during flight. And it scored me some more time in the air, observing and absorbing the lessons from earlier as we flew around.

Lined up to land at runway 11, KGIF, Winter Haven, FL.

All in all: an awesome day. 1.8 hours total added to the logbook, with the "Basic Four" and some light pattern work. I know I need to work on some things; the takeoff was a bit mushy and I was not paying attention in a descent and took us below the altitude Bryan had requested that I hold. Not too serious, but definitely a mistake I can learn from. I also overshot the turn to base in the traffic pattern, but some rigorous pattern work will help me learn that better.

On the brighter side I built confidence with some turns and some climbing/descending, and Bryan told me he thought I was doing very well; at one point he told me that he had 30-hour students who were having trouble with some of the things I was doing well with. Bryan was an excellent CFI; relaxed but in control, knowledgeable, and friendly. I look forward to flying with him again soon and building my skills!

*I will talk about the traffic pattern more in the future; basically, you circle the field in a set pattern before landing. Downwind is parallel to the landing runway opposite the direction of landing, base is a turn perpendicular to the runway as you descend, and final is the lineup with the runway and final descent.

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