Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adventures in Aviation, Part Huit

Wow. I just realized that I’ve only had four official flight lessons. Why does it seem like I’ve been doing this for ages? My skills are indicative of a four lesson student, but my brain thinks otherwise. But yes, last Saturday was my fourth official flight lesson. On the agenda: steep turns.

I’m starting to understand why people say the most dangerous parts of flying are the takeoff and the landing (and weather, but that’s a whole other category). As we approach the runway threshold, Mr. Instructor reminds me to get into lights (lights on), camera (transponder on,) action (fuel pump on) mode, then it’s full power and we race down the runway. Something about pushing the power all the way in slows my brain synapses. Power and brain function must be inversely related for me.

Mr. I: Watch your airspeed.
Me: Uh, uh, uh…
Mr. I: Keep us straight on the runway.
Me: Uh, uh, uh…
Mr. I: Your airspeed’s alive. Start to pull back.
Me: Uh, uh, uh…
Mr. I (grabbing the controls): Pull back more! Whoa, keep us steady! Give it more right rudder!
Me: I’m giving it right rudder!
Mr. I: Ok, there we are. Keep us climbing. Good job.
Me (unsaid): Holy crap! What the hell just happened!

As we climb away from the airport my comprehension comes back. I’m very good at straight and level flying; I think it’s my specialty. But steep turns are not straight and level flying. Steep turns mean you have to make 360 degree turn at a 45 degree angle, the force of which equals 2Gs, then switch directions and do another 360 degree turn at a 45 degree angle going the other direction. You’re also supposed to maintain a constant altitude throughout the turns. Ha! It wasn’t hard for me to figure out how to react once we started the turn (pull back, constant moderation of aileron and rudder), but there was no way I could look at the turn indicator to make sure I was at a constant 45 degree angle AND the altitude indicator. At a 45 degree angle, that little plane turns fast! All I could think when Mr. Instructor said “Good job. You did a nice job maintaining altitude”, was “Altitude? I was supposed to monitor altitude? And when was I supposed to do that?”

I imagine statements like these might scare readers who believe flying requires a dedicated, detail-oriented, fast-acting and responsible pilot, and perhaps you think I sound like the opposite of one of those, but to that I will respond with a quote from Mr. Instructor: “Believe me, there are plenty of people who have their pilot’s license who definitely shouldn’t have gotten their pilot’s license. I don’t know what kind of CFI (certified flight instructor) would have signed them off for that. It’s kinda scary thinking that those people are allowed to fly around up there with us.” If Mr. Instructor can be as blunt with me on my first lesson as he was, I assure you he will not allow me to fly alone until I’m dedicated, detail-oriented, fast-acting and responsible pilot. I sure hope that’s before I’m 80. I guarantee my synapses will be WAY slower then.

Our lesson continued with some slow flight, touch and goes (land then takeoff immediately afterwards), and flying the pattern. There were a couple more takeoff episodes (Mr. I: More right rudder!, Me: I’m giving it right rudder! I think the right rudder is stuck!), but all-in-all it was a great lesson.

After my lesson, Wes and I worked on the planes until 5pm. We were finishing up just as the sun was setting, so Wes suggested we go out for a sunset flight. Best. Idea. Ever. Check it out:

California sunsets are awesome; even better when seen from the air. I’m a lucky girl.

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