Fam Flight (28 April, 2009)

28th April, my first flight in such a small plane. Both excited and nervous about going down to the airport today. Heading straight there from work for my flight, but the thought of it kept me going all day. Finally, said the little voice in my head, I’m going to see what it’s like to fly.

Obviously I’d been in larger aircraft before. Jet airliners both large and small have been a familiar part of my travel plans, but until today the smallest I’d ever been in was a Cessna Grand Caravan on a tour to the Grand Canyon. That flight had been a bit bumpy as we flew over the canyons and valleys, but still fun.

So I get to the airport and I’m introduced to my instructor. She takes me into a briefing room and asks me briefly on my flying experience (um, none.) I have used flight simulators in passing but not seriously. Since I have a physics degree I have a fair idea how these chunks of metal can stay up in the air, but aerodynamics was never a large part of the course.

“Okay, we’ll today when you take off you’ll be doing…” Hold on a sec, I think, she didn’t say when I take off in a figurative sense did she, she mentioned it in the I’ll be taking off kind of way. At this point I realise this isn’t just a go up in the plane and get a sense of what it’s like up there flight. This is a real flight, and I’ll be flying. Okay, better pay attention now.

So a short briefing on the basic flight controls. Ailerons, elevators, rudders, throttle etc. How we take off, increase power and rotate at 55 knots (rotate is aviation jargon for pull back until the plane leaves the runway. But not too far back.) A general overview of what we would be doing while up.

Part of the briefing consisted of how our viewpoint changes depending on what we’re doing at different stages of flight. When taking off we want to bring the nose up until the horizon is just peaking above the console from my point of view, that is a good angle. When in level flight it should be about a hands breadth above the top of the console. I should be looking outside at all times, and keeping these horizon pictures in my head at all times. As the flight goes on I will start to ignore this, but more on that later.

So off we go, out to the plane. The aircraft in question that I’ll be flying is a Cessna 172R, with the registration C-GGPP. It is a four seater (technically), high winged aircraft mainly designed for flight training. Single prop at the front, classic design that is familiar looking to most people. The Cessna 172 is the most produced aircraft line in the world, and since first production in 1956 over 43,000 units have been manufactured. So, to the plane. I head out carrying my borrowed flight school headset (here’s a hint if you wish to learn to fly, buy your own headset as the loaners are generally not the best,) and to the plane. Plug the headset in and we start doing the walkaround.

Now the walkaround is designed so we’re confident the aircraft is flight worthy and there are no issues with it. It is an vitally important part of any flight as you never know what has happened to it since the last time it was flown, or even unnoticed during the last time it was flown. There is a procedure to follow, but I’ll not bore you with that now, you’ll get your chance at a later date.

Walkround completed we’re into the cockpit. As the student pilot I’m in the left hand seat, my instructor in the right. We go through all the pre-flight checklists, yet another vitally important task and again one I’ll cover later. Checks are performed and we obtain taxi clearance from ATC (Air Traffic Control) and taxi off. Now this is my introduction to the other basic controls, brakes, rudder/nose wheel controls and the throttle. Lets skip that for now and yet again, it’ll be spoken of more at a later date. We taxi off, do our run up checks before the runway (pretty much full engine power checks performed into the wind to ensure everything is fully operational before taking off,) and line up on runway 08 (again I’ll go into the airport layout at a future date, don’t want to overload you all at once. )

So this is it, the moment I’ve thought about for many years, taking off in a light aircraft. Full power, hands on control column while hurtling down the runway (instructor is doing the nose wheel/rudder controls at this point), and hit 55 knots on the airspeed indicator. Rotate, comes the call from the right hand seat, and we pull back on the yoke. The plane pulls itself off the ground and into the air. I’m a little high, it’s corrected, and off we go climbing out of Toronto City Centre Airport. I’m doing it. After many years of dreams and wishful thinking here I am, flying an airplane.

Climb out of the airport on an easterly heading we follow the shoreline towards Bluffers Park in Scarborough. My instructor points our various sights and talks me through some basic controls of the 172. I’m unfortunately at this point realising I’m doing something I shouldn’t be. I’m staring at the instruments and not outside. The problem with having done some flight instruments and having read up on things before, I know what the instruments are and what they’re telling me. A little education can sometimes be a bad thing, I pay too much attention to the instruments when I’m learning to fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I should be looking outside. This is a problem for me throughout the entire flight, and one I’m coming to terms with, but it is a problem. I’ve notified my instructor of this tendency and she takes steps to deal with it. Note to the wise, if you learn, look outside.

Off to Bluffers Park, over it and continuing eastbound slightly out of the City Centre control zone. We practice some basic turns, a few 360s at a shallow banking angle, some very minor climbs and descents and a chat about power settings for different stages of flight. Then we’re off back to the city.

Returning to Toronto we get clearance from City Tower to perform a city tour before approaching for landing. As a result we got to fly in over the city, flying above downtown but just below the height of the CN Tower. We circled the tower getting a magnificent view of Toronto, the lake, and even the other side of the lake. Truly a beautiful city that I now live in. Always makes my heart swell to see it from the air.

City tour down my instructor takes over control of the aircraft (yes to this point, other than the takeoff, the instructor was pretty much hands off the entire flight just trusting me to fly the plane under instruction. Now that takes courage if you ask me, but it was wonderfully confidence building.) We come in, land the aircraft and taxi to a stop. A very brief debriefing afterwards on how I liked it and how I performed (apparently I’m good on the controls and the smooth movements, see playing computer games pays off.)

So I flew my first flight, I got an instructor I got on with and knew her stuff inside out, and I really really enjoyed it. This is it, I think, I’m continuing this. This is what I’ve wanted for a long long time. Well, there goes my savings. However there is the first 0.6 hours for my log book. Every little counts.

Costings. As I mentioned earlier I’m going to let people know exactly what things cost so there are no illusions, there are ancillary costs that often aren’t in flight school estimates and people need to be aware of them. Plus it allows me to keep track of what I’m spending on this. So cost for Fam Flight, $82.50 +GST, total of $86.63.

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