Ground School – Air Law (May 19 & May 21, 2009)

The most important ground school lesson. Air law.

As you know they’re all important, and this is about all the regulations we have to live by. They’re there for safety reasons, regulatory reasons and sometimes maybe bureaucratic reasons.

I’ve put two lessons into one post here, because lets face it it’s not the worlds most exciting topic and you don’t want to read about it twice. Yes the rules surrounding pilot licencing are exciting and fascinating, but be honest, a lesson where you go through various CARs (Canadian Air Regulations) over two classes isn’t the most riveting in the world. And a lot of it comes down to, it’s your responsibility as the pilot not anyone elses.

Can’t really think of anything else to say. I’ll try and pick a more exciting topic for next time. Which I believe is an actual flight.


Ground School – Flight Instruments (14 May, 2009)

It’s Thursday, so this means I have another ground school. The topic of this one, flight instruments. Very important, easily the most important ground school lesson (just like all the others. You get the idea yet that every single thing you learn in flying is important. As the saying goes “It doesn’t matter, eventually will.”)

So flight instruments, all those dials and gauges that most people are passingly familiar with, even if they don’t know what they do.

  • Airspeed indicator: tells you your airspeed.This speed is relative to the air around you, not your ground speed. You need a GPS or some such for that.
  • Turn and slip indicator: tells you how coordinated your turn is, at what rate you’re turning, and whether you’re slipping to the side or not.
  • Altimeter: Everyone knows this one, it’s how high you are. Except it’s a bit trickier than just telling you that as it comes down to pressures, how you’ve set it and changeable meteorological conditions.  In other words, set it up correctly and it’s mostly accurate, set it wrong and you may suffer an unexpected knock on something.
  • Oil pressure: Easy enough.
  • Fuel gauge: In our case the amount of fuel in each tank (remember, two tanks mounted in the wings.
  • Heading indicator: Which direction you are pointed. Note there is often a difference between direction you’re pointed, and direction you’re going, especially in a small plane in strong winds.
  • Vertical speed indicator: Climbing or descending, and how fast.
  • Attitude indicator: Orientation of the airplane. It’s that little multicoloured ball with the small airplane in the middle (I really need to take some photographs of the interior.)
  • And several others depending on the aircraft such as angle of attack indicator.

Lesson explains the shortcomings of each instrument, how they operation, how to get the best out of each of them. A strange mix of when you have to rely on your instruments, and when you shouldn’t. How to tell when something is wrong, and how to interpret the wrongness.

A good solid lesson full of good solid information. And a lot of food for thought.

First Real Flight Lesson (13 May, 2009)

So here it is, Wednesday 13th May, 2009. This is my first real flying lesson. I’m nervous but excited and looking forward to it. A proper lesson, not just a Fam Flight like the previous one. I’ll be doing more, learning more (and of course, paying more.)

We take off from Toronto city, my instructor is doing the radio work still at this point. Off we go, headed eastbound towards Pickering. We follow the coast pretty much on the way, over Bluffers Park in Scarborough and out of the City Centre control zone. Continue east until we reach Frenchman’s Bay which is just to the west of Pickering nuclear power station (a fairly obvious landmark.) From there we turn north towards the town of Claremont which is located north of the 407 for those who know the area.

The area around Claremont is the general aviation practice area for most of the flight schools in the nearby vicinity. Flying from Buttonville, Markham, Toronto City Centre and some others. It is an open area, full of farmland and some woods with some small villages scattered around the landscape. Very pretty area, and surprisingly unpopulated for being so close to Toronto. Seems to the east is nice and undeveloped, to the west is more built up.

So off into the practice area, it’s a beautiful day, clear skies and plenty to see. I don’t do much sightseeing however as we’re practicing turns, climbs and descents and just generally trying to get a feel for the aircraft. It still seems to strange, here I am in control of a relatively expensive piece of equipment, 3,000 feet above the ground. Looking out for the occasional other plane in the area, but other than that it seems the world is free and yours to explore. It’s so exhilarating.

Before too long though it’s back to the barn, headed back to Toronto City and a landing. While I had my hands on the controls and was trying to follow what was going on, it’s the instructor who obviously performs the landing. However she talks me through what is happening, asks me to make some corrections and explains every step. It’ll be some time before I’m doing landings myself (at time of writing it’s still not 100% me), but the time will come soon enough.

Time: 1.1 hours of flight time.

Costs: 1.1 hours of plane hire, $167.88. 1.4 hours of instructor time (0.3 hours of ground briefing before the flight,) $84. Including GST the total comes to $264.47.

Ground School – Aero Engines (12 May, 2009)

And another ground school class. I know what you’re thinking, “he’s spending all this money and not doing any flying.” Well yes, that’s one way of looking at it, but I signed up for the ground school before the lessons. Also I do believe that getting a good educational grounding, on the ground, pays dividends when you’re in the air. If nothing else you are more aware of what is going on when you’re up there, so you’re wasting less time of that very expensive airtime learning things you could have learnt cheaper elsewhere.

Anyway, there was a flight the next day so we’ll discuss that in the next post.

Aero engines. Interesting topic, even for those who aren’t petrol-heads, and an important one. If you don’t know what your engine is doing and how it reacts to different situations, you won’t get too far flying. You don’t need to know how to strip the thing down and rebuild it, but educating yourself on the ins and outs of their functionality will make the rest of the job easier. After all simple things like carburettor icing kill may pilots each year.

There are many types of aircraft engines, and not even going into jets the basic piston engines are split down dependant on how their cylinders are configured. Radially ( arranged in a circle like on old biplanes and movie crop dusters,) in-line (situated in a line usually below the crankcase) and horizontally opposed (equal numbers of cylinders located on each side of the crankcase.) Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

All about the four-stroke cycle of a modern internal combustion engine. Fuel types, turbo charging, the effects of fuel mixture and why you have to adjust it at different stages of flight, the propeller, even the cooling systems and how you can’t continuously climb or the engine will overheat.

This is all vital stuff, as is everything in a ground school course. If you want to take up flying, pay attention. Everything you learn will matter at some point, no matter how dull or insignificant it may seem at the beginning.

The Aircraft

So I’ve told you a lot so far about one flight, and some theory and expenses. But what about the planes themselves? Not everyone knows a Cessna from a Piper, or even what these small aircraft look like in general (I know general aviation in Europe isn’t that big for example.) So lets talk planes.

Cessna 172 - C-GFND

This is C-GFND, a Cessna 172R single engine, four seat, high wing fixed wing airplane. The 172 series is also known as the Cessna Skyhawk.

This particular model was constructed in 1999. It has a 160hp  (for those for whom this kind of things makes sense), four-cylinder fuel injected engine. It has a maximum take off weight of 2450 lbs (including fuel) and has an average fuel burn at an economical 9 gallons per hour.

  • Take off speed of 55 knots (63.25 mph, just under 102 km per hour)
  • Cruise speed of 110 knots (126.5 mph, just under 204 km per hour)
  • Stall speed of 33 knots with full flaps down (38 mph, 61 km per hour)

For those not familiar with the term, a knot is 1 nautical mile (NM) per hour. It is equal to 1.15 standard or stature mile per hour, or 1.852 km per hour.

It can also hold 53 usable gallons of fuel between the two wing tanks.

It has fixed tricycle undercarriage, no retractable landing gear here, this plane is built for simplicity and ruggedness.

The most common production aircraft ever, the 172 is very commonly used for training due to its simplicity and stability. My instructor assures me it’s almost impossible to spin these aircraft if you’re not trying to do it deliberately. We’ll see.

So there it is, the Cessna 172R. I could go into more numbers and details, but maybe we’ll save that for later. I’ll try and get a photo of the inside.

Ground School – Airframes (7 May, 2009)

On the Thursday of the same week I had another ground school course, this time with a different instructor. This instructor has a very different flying background, originally as a fighter pilot in Europe he has subsequently performed as the pilot in corporate jets, surveying flights (he describes flying and keeping X hundred feet above the surface of the ground as very challenging, even when going over mountains), private instruction and various other piloting careers.

This lesson concentrated on airframes. So we learnt all about the structures of the aircraft, the different control surfaces (ailerons, flaps, elevators), how the components are put together and load factors on the aircraft.

We also discussed common problems. One such is the fact that the control surfaces are linked from the control console to the actual surfaces by a set of wires. For example push the left rudder pedal and the left wire pulls on the rudder moving it to the left. However accidents have been caused by maintenance re-connecting the wires the wrong way around. So your rudder moves right when you want it to go left, the elevators move up instead of down. This is why you always check the plane carefully before flying it.

A very good part of this lesson was going out onto the apron to view one of the school’s plans. This allowed him to walk around and demonstrate how the different surfaces work. Also allowed us to pick up tips on what we should be looking for on our walk around before flying. Tips like ensuring the counterweights are in place on the elevators and ailerons, the bolts on the flap mechanism are tight, how much spring there should be in the front wheel shock absorber and such.

Excellent class giving a good grounding that every pilot needs to know what their aircraft is and how it operates.


First Ground School (5 May, 2009)

5th of May, 2009 was my first Ground School. I’d had the Ground Kit for a week and a half or so, but the contents where still bewildering to me (especially the E6B illustrated below, but we’ll come to that in a later post.)

E6B flight computer

E6B flight computer

So first Ground School lesson, Theory of Flight. This is to be the first of 15 lessons in the Ground School course lasting 7 and a half weeks, taking place every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 6:30.

I’m on the course with I believe 11 other students from varying backgrounds. Among the backgrounds we have;

  • someone from Kuwait who is aiming to be a commercial airline pilot
  • a lawyer who deals with aviation and wants to learn to fly
  • an career army who got a lot of practice within the military but hasn’t got his civilian exams or time
  • a self-made businessman who is planning on buying his own plane to make it easier to get to business meetings
  • call centre supervisor, originally from Croatia
  • physics student
  • and others

Over the weeks I will get to know some of them very well, by and large a good bunch of people.

Our instructor for this course is an engineer from Pratt and Whitney, who teaches part-time at the school in both theory and practical flight training. I figure and engineer from a large aircraft engine manufacturer should have a fairly good grasp on the theory of flight. Of course this is correct.

So all into the general theories of flight. What causes lift, the effects of pressure, the results of different angles of the wing, some mathematics on lift generation and critical angles. A lot of other stuff in there as well for the first lesson, G forces, weight, stalling, drag, stability and others. Since this isn’t a teach you to fly blog, and if I start going into the theory here I’ll probably lose most of you in one posting, I’ll leave it at that. I will say though that the 3 hours of the lesson went by quickly and squeezed a lot in, but the clarity of the information was never compromised.

However needless to say, if you’re serious on learning to fly you need to know this stuff, and it’s never boring. In flying everything you learn will matter some day, so you can never learn too much about this stuff.