First Solo (10 January, 2010)

Okay, this is out of the order for the rest of the blog. While the lessons to this point have been historical, as I go through and try to bring everything up to date, I just couldn’t help but post this one.

Today I did my first solo flight. Just me in charge of a multi hundred thousand dollar airplane. Oddly enough it wasn’t even frightening. We’d come to the end of a load of circuits (more on circuits at a later point), done several engine failure scenarios, then the “Okay we’ll land, then how do you feel about doing your first solo today?”

So we land and taxi to the apron. My instructor gives me a short briefing, and then gets out. Now I’m on my own. Get clearance, taxi to the active runway (runway 26 today) and takeoff. Now I’m flying, on my own. It’s a little surreal, but for the most part it doesn’t seem any different. I climb and work round the circuit, make the plane adjustments on the downwind and inform the tower I’m turning base for a full stop on runway 26. Come round, slow down and start my descent. Final approach, just need to add a touch of power before taking it off again to be sure I’ll comfortably make the runway. I balloon slightly on the landing but easily correct and touch down relatively smoothly. Taxi off and head to the tiedowns. A congratulations on your first solo flight from the ATC ground controller and I shut the plane down.

Greeted on the ground by my instructor with a “congratulations, you’re alive and the plane in one piece!”

So that’s it. Something I’ve been working towards for a while done after 22.8 hours. A solo flight. Still seems very strange.

Well next lesson it’s back to it. I have a lot of solo time to gain before the flight test, but also a lot of cross-country flying, different airports and a lot more practice.

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Flying high (24 May, 2009)

24th May 2009, another flying lesson. Started off fine, we did the walkaround, got the plane ready, and went off to the apron near Charlie intersection to do our runup checks.

When we finished them we had to hold for a Porter flight to pass us and take off first. As they where passing they stopped in front of us. Next thing we hear on the radio “Ground this is Porter XXX, can you pass a message to GFND, their front wheel is looking a little spongy.” “GFND this is City Ground, did you copy the Porter transmission.” “City Ground, GFND, yes we copied. We’ll head back and get it checked out.”

So taxi back to the apron and shut down. Get out, yes the front wheel is looking a little flatter than it should. May have been fine, but can’t take the chance. However the problem existed because I didn’t check the front wheel on the walkaround. This is why they are important, with the flatter tire it could have caused a problem both on the takeoff run and the landing. So, lesson learned, always check the front wheel. Yes I made a mistake, I missed a check, however having made that mistake ensures I’ll never make it again.

So get the Porter FBO ramp boys out, they inflate the tire and check the others for good measure. Get back in, recheck everything, another runup check then to runway 26 for takeoff.

Good takeoff, fine flight, out to the practice area and practice steeper turns, climbs and descents. Still very much gentle learning as I’m getting used to the responsiveness of the plane. Come back, and a fully assisted landing from the instructor.

Costs: Airplane rental, 1.3 hours (they took 0.2 hours off due to the wheel incident), cost of $198.41. Instructor time, 1.7 hours (including ground briefing), $102. Total cost including GST, $315.43. Accumulated 1.5 hours (longest lesson to date.)

Flying Again (May 18, 2009)

May 18th, 2009. My second proper flying lesson. Yes I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it. Freedom, soaring through the air. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Do the walkaround, check the plane is airworthy. All seems fine. Instructor talks me through the takeoff, but she’s still controlling the rudder for the takeoffs at this point, while I do the power and the actual rotation off the runway.

Rudder? why do you need rudder when taking off in a straight line? Well it’s down to the physics of the engines. When at full power, the engines produce a lot of torque towards the left hand side. This results in the plane wanting to point and roll towards the left. As a result you need right hand rudder on take off to keep the plane straight. Simple (yeah right!)

So take off, (instructor is also doing the radio work, but I’ll get to it eventually,) fly eastbound out of the control zone towards the practice area.

Today we’re practicing straight and level flight. Sounds simple, and it should be, but when you’re new to the plane and just want to do it it’s suddenly not so easy. There are many different forces acting on the plane. Gravity wants to pull you down, lift wants to push you up. Drag wants to slow you down and wind just wants to do whatever it likes with you. As a result it’s a little harder to maintain that straight and level flight, especially on nice warm hot mornings like today where you are getting ground effect heating turbulence generated as the ground warms up from the sun (and not at even rates depending on the surface. You can definitely tell when you’re flying over a major highway as the hot air rising from that is a lot more than a grassy field.)

So with all these forces acting on you it becomes more of a balancing act to keep travelling in a straight line at the same altitude. Wind blows you off slightly, so you have to rudder into the wind to maintain your track. Power is torguing to the left, you use the rudder slightly to the right (while balancing out the wind.) Descending slightly, you need to trim nose up a bit more. Climbing, trim nose down.

Ultimately it’s not as complicated as it sounds, you get the hang of it relatively quickly, though I’m still today learning how much to spin the trim wheel for each configuration.

Also taught is how to set the power for our desired speed. In the Cessna 172R the standard cruise power setting is around 2,100 rpm (revs per minute) to maintain ~110 knots airspeed. If you want to slow down, you reduce power. Speed up, increase power. You of course have to keep the aircraft trimmed to maintain altitude at this point. Rule of thumb for the aircraft in straight and level flight is roughly take off 100 rpm to drop the airspeed 5 knots. Obviously this doesn’t work through the whole range of flight and power settings, but it’s a good rough rule when you’re in the air.

1.2 hours of flight time.

Costs: Plane 1.2 hours, $183.14. Instructor, 1.4 hours, $84.00. Including taxes, total cost $280.50

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.

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.