Category Archives: Flight Instruction Stories

My First(ish) Flight (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tower)

That’s a better title than last time.

So as I stated in my previous post, yesterday was my first “actual-facts” flight as part of my instruction at Fischer. Maybe in between lessons (and therefore interesting blog posts) I’ll write about my past flights, as they are pretty unique at points. Regardless, this is how my flight in 8350R went:

The preflight briefing with my instructor Bob Smetana was mostly an explanation of what supplies for the future and the supplying of checklists and balance charts and airport maps. The flight was to be a one hour flight over Greenwood Lake to do basic aircraft orientation, as my last flight was over a year ago. The METAR was as follows:

KCDW 162053Z 32010KT 10SM SCT120 01/M17 A3020 RMK AO2 SLP234 T00061167 53002

A bit windy and a lot cold, a certain pilot-in-training forgot to dress warm (“I mean, the plane has heat” was a thing that I actually thought. Perhaps I thought the full saying was “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, Climate?”). The preflight walk-around was chilly, but I powered through, checking all of the components and making sure they worked properly. With that done expediently (but safely), Bob and I retreated to the warmth of cockpit.

As I also stated in my last post, I am tall. Not just tall, actually: I’m ungodly, unearthly, perhaps even freakishly tall. I’m 17 years old and 6’4″ — taller than my brother five years my senior. Therefore, I found squeezing myself into the Cherokee a daunting task. However, after getting myself comfortable, Bob and I ran through the startup checklist and taxied out. After engine run-up tests, Bob told me to key the tower and ask for takeoff clearance.

Here’s where I interject and say that I am very self conscious, and screwing up during a public speech is the most embarrassing thing that can happen in my mind. So imagine what was going through my head trying to perfect the radio call! After a few times, I got it down and keyed the mic:

In which Connor tries to sound like a pilot… and fails.

Here’s where things got fun. Full power, 2500 RPM, 150 horsepower, whatever other cool-sounding power jargon. I was on the roll. We rotated about about 65mph and with that we were off. For the first minute or so, I bumped and jostled around  As we headed north, the 10SM of visibility became very apparent. Bob pointed out High Point (“Do you know what High Point is?” “No, I don’t” “It’s the highest point in New Jersey” — Boy, that’s a quite literal name), Hilltop Airport (once again, literal names), and several other crucial visual aides for navigation.

After a couple minutes, we reached FL035 and were cruising at 120mph/2400RPM over Greenwood Lake. We did a few clearing turns to make sure there was no traffic in the area, and began the orientation maneuvers. We did several turns in both directions, flying and turning while in configuration for the pattern (flaps down and low speed), and stall recovery (which, though I’m not a fan of roller coasters, I enjoy thoroughly).

Unfortunately, after some time we had to head back to CDW. After a few rehearsals to make sure my terminology was perfect, I reported that we were 10 miles out of Caldwell, which is over the Lincoln Park Water Tower (which, as I learned, is different from that other water tower right by it. No not that one, the other one).

Connor announces 10 mile inbou– oh my god ATC speaks fast are those even words

As we came within 5 miles Runway 04, ATC had alerted us that the winds had changed and we could pick a different runway  to land at if we prefered. Bob thought about it and had me change the approach so that we came in via Runway 28.

So here I was, on my first flight lesson in about a year, under 1,000 feet up, in 10 KT (~11.5 mph) winds. And I was trying to land a plane.

An accurate representation of how I felt

A more accurate representation of how the winds actually were


I turned on to final approach a bit wide to the left — my first mistake — and tried to correct. However, since we were not flying directly into the wind, it pushed me over to the right which, when compounded with my corrections, caused me to be too far to the right. Make that mistake #2.

Finally, though I had done several windy landings in simulators (see: Flight Simulator on my computer at home), I had completely forgotten how to crab or sideslip the approach and had my hands full. Thankfully, Bob was there to help me fly the last 300 feet down to the runway.

Once safely on the ground, I taxied back to the Fischer ramp, secured the airplane, and debriefed. All in all, my first[ish] flight with Fischer and Bob was certainly an experience, and one that I will remember for a long time to come. My next flight is most likely going to be this weekend, and I’m certainly excited to get back in the air again!


(Oh my, I didn’t realize how long this post was going to be. I’ll try to make the next one more succinct!)