Flight Lesson 3 and Nearly 4 or "Brother, Can You Spare a Dramamine?"

11 & 12 October:

I booked an aircraft for 3:00 pm yesterday requesting the instructor with whom I did my first lesson. He is a former Air Force pilot with gajillions of hours experience. I learned yesterday that he took 13 YEARS off — yes, years — and hadn’t flown until just a few years back when he decided to become a certified flight instructor. That’s a long time! His history in this regard made me feel less worried about having laid off flying for a few weeks.

He could afford to. I, however, could not!

I filed my flight plan all by my lonesome, after which we did a short pre-flight lesson, and off we went. We practiced all measure of stalls, turns, take offs and landings. Some of it went very well, but when we did the stalls, I was reminded quite rudely why I don’t do roller coasters.

Stalls are a routine thing. It sounds pretty intimidating when you tell someone that your’e going out to practice a maneuver where you’re going to put the airplane in such a position that it will no longer fly. But the whole point is that you’re going to learn how to recover from it, should it happen whilst in flight.

It involves climbing rapidly and steeply, eventually exceeding the angle at which the wings work. At this point, the airflow over the wing becomes too weak and the wing stops lifting or “stalls.” There’s another version of the stall exercise where you are flying REALLY slowly as if landing, and the wing stalls and you have to apply power quickly to avoid falling like the proverbial rock. Both involve, to one degree or another, a ride that makes weak stomachs like mine decide to do little loop-de-loops of their own.

Yes, I’ve been known to get motion sick. Not violently, as in filling one of those little air sickness bags you get on the airliners. Never have done that, though I was once sitting next to someone who did. Most unpleasant. I just get REALLY queasy. And that’s where this wound up. He demonstrated all the stalls, took me through them together, then on my own. By the time I had done a few of each, I finally had to tell him to take us straight and level for a few minutes so I could recover. He was kind enough to do so, and off we went to the training airfield near Warrenton, VA.

We did four take offs and landings into Warrenton’s airfield, a small uncontrolled airfield about 8 or ten miles (I think!) from Manassas, my home airport. (Gee, kinda cool. I have a home airport now! Whodathunk it?) Finally calmed down from the motion sickness, I did a couple of the take offs myself, the last one being far better than I expected I would be able to do. Landings are still a little intimidating, but they DO come in pairs, these take offs and landings. One without the other is.. well, messy.

Overall, I was pleased with the lesson yesterday, but learned VERY quickly that this is a perishable skill. Not flying for three weeks was probably the WORST possible thing I could have done to myself as far as flight training goes. I expected to experience a setback, but I was really quite surprised at how much set back I was. This will not happen again voluntarily.

I also booked a lesson for this afternoon with Brad, my ground school instructor. I like Brad. He’s smart, likes a good joke, and has the same morbid fascination with fatal air disasters that I do.

Sidebar: I have these dreams. Not recurring, per se, because the circumstances are always different. But they are always very vivid, and always very exciting. In the dream, I witness an air crash. Usually the big planes. I don’t see the devastation up close, but I see the aircraft either strike the ground from a distance, or disappear behind an obstacle and see the fireball. The last thing I usually remember is seeing it, uttering the obligatory “Oh my god!” or some such expression and running toward the accident.

Brad experiences something similar.

Sidebar within a sidebar: I saw a stage play once entitled “CVR.” It was an on-stage recreation of air disasters as if you were standing in the cockpit with the pilots. The “script” is taken from the actual cockpit voice recordings (hence, “CVR”) and the events are performed in real time. It’s a little creepy, but I recommend it.

Anyway, I did the preflight checks while Brad was with his previous student. I then went in for my lesson before take off and we spent a good 20 minutes going over the lesson for the day and some previous material from ground school I should have remembered but didn’t. Then, out to the plane.

I reviewed the preflight checklist with Brad, and we hopped in. I did the engine start up checklist and turned the key. (Airplanes have keys, believe it or not. I had no idea!) So far, I was doing admirably. It was a good thing to be feeling more confident about the training I had received. Brad said “Ok, do your brake check and hold.” So I edged the throttle forward until the wheels started to move and then tapped the toe breaks and stopped the plane quite adeptly. Next, Brad said to make the call to Manassas ground control so we could get going.

I depressed the radio’s transmit button and said confidently “Manassas Ground, Cessna 8191-Echo at the West Ramp with Bravo. Taxi VFR Southwest.” Perfect. Just like it should have been. The ground controller responded with the appropriate information which I dutifully copied down on my clipboard holding the pre-printed form I designed just for that purpose. Yeah, this was working fine. Brad was even impressed.

Just then, one of the other flight instructors, Fayek, who had taught our ground school the first week, grabbed Brad’s attention and pointed out that the nose wheel tire was a little under inflated. After a hand-signal conference, Fayek finally convinced Brad to shut down the engine and have a look. Upon quick inspection beforehand, neither Brad nor I saw the problem. But Fayek had seen the airplane with the propeller spinning which pulls the nose of the Cessna 172 down, essentially squishing the tire and revealing the lack of adequate pressure in the tire.

Damn.

I was doing so well, too.

Unfortunately, Brad had another student immediately following the time I had reserved, so there was not enough time to fix whatever was wrong with the tire AND get in a lesson. So we decided to postpone the lesson until later in the week.

I was genuinely disappointed. I was looking forward to flying with Brad, because from my perspective, he and I think a lot alike, and have very similar teaching styles. (Yes, I used to teach high school and college many moons ago.) So I will have to reschedule this lesson.

But the day was by NO means wasted. I gained a great deal of confidence with pre-flight procedures. During the before take off review with Brad, I got a chance to learn that it was unwise to do a brain dump of the ground school subjects, because they WILL be asked of you later by the FAA examiner. I learned that having more eyes on a situation lessens your chance of a problem or a disaster, so it’s good that someone else was looking at that front tire. (Though this is not really a new lesson. I am always happy to have passengers in the car with me warn me of impending calamities. I will NEVER be angry at anyone for being a “back seat” driver in a car I’m driving. Seems as though this is sound advice for the aviation world as well.)

After all, it’s one thing to dream about an air disaster. It’s another thing entirely to actually BE in one.


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