Note: I’ve moved my blog! You can find this post here.
This was my very first flight lesson. I was referred to Fischer Aviation by Jordan, a friend of my coworker Matt. Jordan told me “I don’t do initial training, but Tom Fischer and Tomoharu at Fischer Aviation are two people I wholeheartedly trust.” I trust Matt and he trusts Jordan, so I trust Jordan. Sold!
I rented a car to get there because Google Maps was unable to suggest a suitable public transit option. I paid about $80 to rent a Zipcar from 2-8:30pm, but I wanted to find a public transportation option since it would be cheaper, devoid of traffic jams that I need to worry about, and I can work in transit. After my first lesson, Jodi at the school contacted me and had great insight about getting there from NYC:
You can take the #46 on the Lakeland Bus Line out of the Port Authority Gate 405. It is a half hour ride in.
The first stop listed on the schedule is for Fairfield (30 minute ride), but the bus drops you off at Hollywood Avenue. Tell the bus driver you want to be let off before that at Passaic Avenue – Two Bridges Road. When he drops you off, walk over the top of Rt. 46 heading south toward the Target Store. You will pass a gas station and a Dunkin Donuts. Just keep on going until you get to the airport.
We have no problem picking you up so if you want us to do that, just call from your cell and wait at the Dunkin.
Half hour by bus to get there? Nice! I will have to try this next time.
I arrived early and met Jodi, who was very welcoming. I filled out some paperwork and then waited for my instructor, Tomoharu Nishino (I’ll call him Tom), to show up. When he did, we computed a weight-and-balance for the aircraft, checked the weather, and planned what we would do in the air. I had told him that I took and passed the written test already, and he was pleasantly surprised. However, the very first question he asked me I answered incorrectly: “What is the radius of Bravo airspace?” I said 30 nm (which is the Mode C veil surrounding it), instead of 20 nm. I felt slightly embarrassed for having already studied and passed the written test and answering a very basic question like that incorrectly–just goes to show how much there is to know, how much I still need to learn, and how important it is to put your ego aside! We also talked about implications of center of gravity being too far forward or aft, and then walked out to the plane. Tom’s first word of advice: if you don’t see a propeller, it’s moving! So stay away.
We performed the pre-flight, starting at the baggage compartment door and going counter-clockwise around the plane. We checked that bolts were where they were supposed to be and had thread left on the bolt, that control surfaces had full range of motion, that the plane was structurally sufficient, brake fluid wasn’t leaking, tire pressure was good, engine oil was adequate, flaps rollers were clear, antennae were on the plane, lights were functioning, fuel was sufficient and wasn’t contaminated with water, no birds were nesting in the engine, no wires were dangling, the static port wasn’t blocked, the pitot tube heat was working and also unblocked, the propeller was free of chips, the airfoils and control surfaces were smooth… and that’s before even getting into the plane! It shows how much you take for granted when driving a car.
We shut off the power, put on the parking brake, and did a final review of the pre-flight checklist to ensure all items were covered. Then Tom called for “lights, camera, action!” Lights, ensuring your taxiing light is on; camera, ensuring your transponder was set to 1200 and broadcasting altitude; and camera, ensuring the mixture is full rich. We then primed and (after a few tries) started the engine. We checked our engine temperature, RPM, and oil pressure, and all were green. We were ready to taxi.
Caldwell/Essex County Airport (KCDW) is a Class Delta airport, and there is an air traffic control tower that operates during the day and part of the night. Tom radioed to the tower that we were taxiing with intentions to depart northbound, and the tower told us to taxi to runway 28. Runways in the US are numbered, and their number roughly corresponds to the runway’s magnetic heading. According to the airport diagram for KCDW, runway 28 has an actual magnetic heading of 276.2 degrees. Since 276.2 is closer to 280 than 270, the runway is designated “runway 28″ and the zero is dropped. Thus, runway 10 at KCDW points roughly 100 degrees and is the same physical runway as runway 28, except planes landing on runway 10 are landing in the opposite direction as those on runway 28 (but they are both landing on the same physical runway–notice the 180 degree difference). Runway 4 points roughly 40 degrees, etc.
When you taxi an airplane, in calm winds you don’t need to use your hands. You control the plane’s direction via rudders and differential braking, and your speed is directly controlled by the throttle. We taxied with the engine at 1000-1100 RPM, looking out for other taxiing aircraft.
We pull aside next to the runway and complete our final pre-takeoff checklist, and then radio to the tower that we’re ready to depart. The tower clears us for takeoff, and we taxi onto the runway, apply full power, and before you know it we’re in the air!
Tom has the controls and has been piloting thus far, and we climb to 2,500 and head north to a reservoir which he calls the “training grounds.” We can’t do our training near the airport for several reasons: planes are landing and taking off in the area; the area within a 5 nm radius around the airport itself is Delta airspace; and the KCDW airspace itself is directly below the Bravo airspace of Newark airport (KEWR).
Once we hit the training grounds, I have the controls. I practice straight-and-level flight, which is exactly what it sounds like: flying straight towards a point while maintaining altitude. It was a slightly windy day, and we were getting bumped around a little bit, but keeping the airplane straight wasn’t very difficult. During straight-and-level flight, we would keep the engine at 2200-2300 RPM.
Next we worked on climbing and Tom imparted another important piece of knowledge: “power + pitch = performance.” This means that at a certain engine RPM and a certain pitch of those nose, you will get (roughly) the same performance out of the aircraft. For example, when climbing we would put full throttle (power) and pull the nose up about 5 degrees (pitch). This meant that our airspeed would drop to about 100 knots and we would climb at a rate of about 500-700 feet per minute. When descending, we would pull the throttle back until the engine hit about 1800 RPM and point the nose down about 5 degrees, and we would descend at about 500 feet per minute. After practicing climb and descent, we worked on turns.
In straight-and-level flight, if you are maintaining altitude it means that the lift of the wings is exactly counteracting the weight of the plane. Since both forces are equal, the altitude remains constant. When you bank an airplane to make a turn, part of the lift generated by the wings acts horizontally to turn the aircraft. Gravity still pulls straight down, but the lift generated from the wings is pointing perpendicular to the surface of the wings. During a turn where your wings are banked 20 degrees, only 94% of the wing’s lift is oriented vertically to maintain altitude.
Therefore, to maintain altitude you have to apply back-pressure, which means to pitch the nose up slightly. In ordinary flight, pitching the nose up increases the amount of lift generated by the wings, which causes lift to be greater than weight and allows you to climb. Thus, by pitching the nose up slightly in a turn, the overall component of your lift becomes greater, and thus you compensate so that 94% of your total lift would equal the weight of the plane during the 20 degree bank. ”One G” is the amount of gravity you feel normally; you will feel 1.06 G’s during the 20 degree turn while maintaining altitude.
None of the default instruments in a plane measure G-force, but you can check your instruments while turning to ensure you are maintaining altitude. All this math is also useful for understanding what G-forces you’ll have to endure to maintain altitude at certain degrees of banked turns, which is important because the airframe can only support a limited amount of weight and very high G-force could break the plane apart.
After learning about turns, I turned to different headings, turned to different landmarks, climbed, and descended and had put everything together. At that point we turned back to KCDW and Tom radioed the tower, flew into the pattern, and landed. We taxied back to the spot, tied down the plane, and performed some quick paperwork.
One nifty technique Tom has is that after he’s done flying the plane and ready to tie it down, he takes the keys out of the ignition and puts them on the dashboard. By doing this, he can see that the keys aren’t in the ignition when he’s pushing the plane into position for tie down. This is important because you’re in front of the airplane while pushing it back, right next to the propeller. If the engine is warm and you move the propeller, it might cause the engine to start or sputter and you can get seriously injured.
Before we went inside, Tom took a “first lesson” photo of me in front of the plane.
Once back inside the flight school building we discussed plans for moving forward, and we agreed that at least two days a week would be optimal for training. I am excited that I have another lesson scheduled for next Friday, and after that will be doing either Tuesday or Wednesday and then Saturday every week.