Stranded In The Southland

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Up Into the Air, Junior Birdmen...

I went ahead and took a single lesson from the folks up at Brackett, and it was okay. I have to admit that I didn't step out of the plane with a great big shit-eating grin on my face, but I suspect that I also didn't hop out of my car with that grin after my very first autocross.

I had some trouble scheduling the lesson, despite the school insisting that it had plenty of planes and plenty of instructors -- I wound up having to fly Saturday, despite the fact that we have a buddy visiting us for the weekend. I was concerned about losing my momentum, so I went ahead and took the lesson, anyway (after a quick hike up into the Verdugo Mountains with our guest).

The instructor turned out to be friendly and pretty casual, which worked for me. We spent some time in the classroom, talking about the parts of the plane and the instruments and the rest. I had a pretty good grip on it all already, but learned a bit about the standard "six-pack" of instruments, including the difference between the pitot-and static airspeed, altitude, and climb-rate and the vacuum-powered attitude and heading indicator and the electric turn coordinator. Cool!

We carefully pre-flighted the aircraft (a Piper Archer), and discovered that it was low on gas, so we had to fill it up before going further. The instructor showed me the radios and controls, started it up, and let me taxi over using the rudder pedals and the steerable nose wheel. He made all the calls to ground control, but given how quick it went, that was all for the best.

We taxied across the two runways and pulled up to the gas station, shut it down, and my instructor filled the tank in the right wing. Then, he let me fill the left wing. It filled up mighty quick, and, unlike the nozzle at your average gas station, the return spring was pretty weak. I wound up spilling gas all over the wing and down onto the ground. Great -- I'm a bit worried about the environmental impact of flying, so I spill some extra gas. :-)

Anyway, we sprayed water on the spill on the wing, and hopped in the plane and taxied down to do the runup. This is a quick test of the engine at high power to ensure that there aren't any problems. The instructor taxied the plane out to the runway and got it centered, then let me control it as we rolled down the runway. I got to rotate the plane as we gained speed and we were off! The Archer required a whole lot of more control input to do anything compared to the TR2 I tried last weekend, but I see that as kind of a win -- I'd like my training aircraft to cut me a little slack.

We flew over to a big practice area and tried some simple turns and climbs and descents. As the instructor explained, learning to fly is all about getting a feel for the plane and flying visually, so I was supposed to avoid looking at the instruments and just note the aircraft's position relative to the horizon.

Unfortunately, with all the fires out here in California, there really wasn't too much horizon -- it was all just kinda of smudged. About this time, the instructor pointed this out, and we headed back, lest we lose all visibility altogether. Oh, well.

He coached me through the descent and lined us up on the runway, bringing us in for a landing while describing everything as it happened. We stopped quickly and I got to taxi us back again. I bought a log book and got my first entry. Woo hoo! (And the owner was ready with the bill almost before I got my feet on the ground. :-)

All in all, it was a good experience -- the instructor was pretty mellow about answering my constant stream of questions and letting me do things myself. As is occasionally the case, I'd read too much, which led to a bit of cognitive dissonance as he explained things like the pattern around the airport that I'd just read about the day before.

Normally, I'd be smart enough not to read ahead, but I have to admit that I was just too excited to learn more. Hopefully I can just chill out before my next lesson, Tuesday.