As a business traveler I spent a lot of time on airplanes. Last year alone I took over 100 different flights. All the time I was sitting in the plane, I was curious about the goings on in the cockpit. I would imagine flying the plane myself, breaking free from gravity and rising above the clouds.
Meeting the Instructor
My flight was scheduled for 1:30pm and I arrived a little early. In fact I arrived earlier than the instructor. A few minutes later my instructor, Jeff, arrived. He explained to me the basics of how everything works, gave me a headset and we walked out to the tarmac.
On the Tarmac
If you’ve ever taken a commercial flight you’ve probably seen the maintenance people, or the pilot, walking around the plane. He’s looking for any visual indication of problems with the plane - dents, hanging pieces, holes, etc. They also check the fuel to ensure that there is no water in it. The same is true with pilots of smaller aircraft.
After Jeff and I neared the plane, a Cessna C-172 S, we did a walk-around. He was looking for any visual damage, checking to make sure all of the flaps, etc moved properly and he also checked the fuel.
Then we climbed into the cockpit and he showed me the controls - the autopilot, the Garmin G1000 cockpit system. The airplane even had an XM radio!
Next he showed me how to operate the foot pedals and then we taxied down the tarmac towards the runway. After we got on the runway he let me control the plane for a little while. It was a very weird experience considering driving the plane on the ground is all done with your feet. Unfortunately I did pretty bad at driving the plane.
A few minutes later Jeff took control of the plane, called into the radio tower and then taxied down the runway. A few minutes after that we were airborne.
After we were safely a few hundred feet in the air, I was allowed to take controls and take the plane to 1400ft. Then we started flying around and I was shown the autopilot.
The autopilot is exactly like you think it is, set your heading, set your altitude and hit go. The autopilot then fly’s the plane for you. Jeff then told me to change the heading West, South, East and then had me take control again and fly North.
As I was turning I asked how hard the plane could be turned. Jeff grabbed the control and turned the plane almost on its side then he said “This is about how far.” At least I think that’s what he said, I was to busy grabbing my spleen off the floor.
Floating in Mid-Air
After a few more minutes of getting used to the controls, we turned to head back to the airport. As we were flying he mentioned that he didn’t want to scare me too much on my first flight. It turns out I was being baited, and, of course, I took the bait. “No, please do,” I responded to his comment. To which he pulled back the yolk and we started a steep climb. He was going to stall the plane. As he was explaining this to me, the plane stalled, the nose fell and I became weightless. I wish I could say that I relaxed enough that I could thoroughly enjoy the experience of complete weightlessness but I wasn’t. In fact, I believe my exact words were “Waaoooooohhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” To which Jeff laughed maniacally. (He didn’t really laugh maniacally, it just makes the story sound better.)
Back to base
After descending to a safe altitude, we circled Sioux Falls and then came in for a landing.
Landing in a small aircraft is very different than landing in a larger jet. Besides the size, normally you’re sitting on the sides of the plane so you don’t see the ground coming. In the cockpit you can see the ground coming, you can see how uneven the plane is coming in.
My first flight was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I recommend that you check it out if you have a chance. It is definitely worth the money! Spend the time, search for flight schools in your area.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2007