Note: I’ve moved my blog! You can find this post here.
It’s been almost two weeks since my first lesson. I had one scheduled for the week prior, but it was rained out (you can’t fly in low ceilings, and Tom doesn’t want me flying in rain yet). For my second lesson I took the bus out like Jodi recommended. You can buy the bus tickets from gates 1-10 in Port Authority, and then you head all the way upstairs to gate 405 to wait for the bus. The bus runs every half hour the afternoon, so I was able to catch the 3pm bus and get dropped off near the airport around 3:30. Jodi mentioned that they will pick you up if you call the school, and this is what I would recommend. This time I walked to the airport from the bus stop and, while it was only a 15 minute walk, there were no sidewalks to walk on.
The lesson started right when Tomoharu (I call him Tom, but not to be confused with Tom Fischer) showed up. We discussed the traffic pattern around Caldwell and procedures for preparing the aircraft for landing while in the pattern. One interesting acronym which I need to remember, GUMPS: Gas (ensuring you are using both tanks); Undercarriage (ensure your landing gear is down); Mixture (ensure full rich); Propeller (ensure you set the correct RPM); Seatbelts (to ensure everyone has one on for landing). Since we’re flying a plane without fuel injection, we need to also remember to turn carburetor heat on before running the GUMPS checklist. Tom told me to remember this, because looking at checklists while you’re landing means you’re dividing your attention between your surroundings, your instruments, and checklists. During landing, you’re near other planes, close to the ground, and flying slowly–the last thing you need is to be looking down at checklists! So he said to commit it to memory so that you can fly while monitoring your instruments and surroundings. He noted that I’ll be doing most of the landing today, so I was sure to try my hardest to burn it into my mind!
We checked the weather after talking about the landing procedures, and it looked good. I was worried because it was raining and cloudy earlier in the day, but surprisingly by 4:30pm there were clear skies. Even though almost everything nowadays will parse the METARs and TAFs for you, I’m becoming quite proficient at reading them just by exposure alone. After that, it was time to fly!
We walked out to the airplane and I asked Tom to run through the preflight again with me to ensure that I do everything correctly. The way Tom does it, he’ll do his preflight around the airplane without looking at the checklist, but after everything is done make sure that he hit everything on the list. This time I did everything myself with only guidance from Tom. I even took the fuel samples and ensured that they contained no water. I am starting to become more confident in being able to do the preflight myself and ensure that I don’t overlook something.
After that, we adjusted our seats (I am 5’7″ so I have to crank the seat up as high as it will go so I can get a good view over the dashboard) and hopped inside and then went through the checklist for starting the engine. I did everything myself, even starting the engine! It was pretty cool how much I’m already able to do (and how much Tom trusts me to do!) on the second lesson.
After starting the engine, we got the weather over ATIS and then Tom radioed to the tower. After we were cleared to the runway, I got some practice taxiing the plane as we went to the before takeoff checklist area. We did our engine run-up, and then Tom got clearance for takeoff. He taxied me to the runway centerline and then let me do the takeoff! Keeping center with the rudder, I increased to full throttle while ensuring that engine gauges (oil pressure and RPM) were in the green. At 65mph (our plane’s airspeed indicator measures in mph instead of knots), I pulled back on the yoke and we were in the air!
I have a tendency to forget left-turning tendencies of the plane. It’s fairly noticeable while taxiing, but in the moment of my first takeoff I forgot to keep some right rudder and during our climb we drifted left a little. It wasn’t unsafe, we simply ended up on a more southerly heading than anticipated.
After heading north and outside of Newark’s Bravo airspace, we did some clearing turns (to visually check for aircraft and to signal to other aircraft that we’re about to do some non-traditional flight maneuvers) and then practiced slow flight. Slow flight practice is good because it helps you to learn to maneuver the plane at very low airspeed. At low airspeed, less air moves over the control surfaces of the plane, making them less effective! Despite this fact, you want to use very small control inputs when controlling the plane. You are flying very close to the stall speed, so you want to be meticulous about flying the airplane and ensure that you don’t make a jarring control input that sends it into a stall.
So why is slow flight practice important? When would one fly slowly on purpose? Well, for landings! When you’re landing the plane, you’re flying your slowest when you’re closest to the ground. You have very little margin for error–if you stall at 500 ft, you don’t have much time to recover before you hit the ground. So practicing slow flight is important and it’s crucial that it be taken very seriously.
After practicing slow flight for a bit, we flew back to the airport and Tom radioed to Caldwell that we wanted to get into the traffic pattern and land. We flew into the pattern on the downwind and the landing procedures began once we were “abeam the numbers” (while flying parallel to the runway, you’re abeam when the numbers written on the runway are 90 degrees from your plane). I moved the throttle down to 1700 rpm and, already being at around 80 mph, deployed the first 10 degrees of flaps while maintaining a 500 fpm (foot per minute) descent. When the runway numbers were 45 degrees behind us, I turned right to the base leg of the traffic pattern at a 30 degree banked turn while maintaining the 500 fpm descent (called “turning base” or “turn to base”). After leveling off, I put the flaps down to 20 degrees. When the runway was about 80 degrees to the right, I made a 30 degree right banked turn onto the final leg of the pattern (called “turning final” or “turn to final”).
After the turn to final, I fully extended the flaps. I was about 5 degrees too far to the right of the runway, and I made a slight bank to veer left and align myself with the extended runway centerline while maintaining descent. Fortunately that day there were no winds for my very first landing! After lining up with the runway, I was able to hold it with rudder usage and very minor banking. The entire time throughout the process I had my hand on the thottle, and while on our final approach Tom would tell me periodically that we were too high and I would reduce power slightly. After reducing power twice at Tom’s request, we cleared the airport fence and I cut power to idle. We glided right over the runway and Tom helped me flare the airplane and get it onto the ground. We then rolled to the end of the runway, turned off, radioed to the tower that we wanted to go back to the tie-down area, and then I taxied us over there.
Takeoff was great, but landing was a rush. Things seemed routine while flying downwind and base, but after you turn to final and see the runway right in front of you (and slightly misaligned in my case) while you’re 300-400 ft above the ground, you realize that this is the real deal. You can look down in a Cessna 172 since it’s a high-wing airplane and see just how close you are to buildings. No margin for error here. When I was flying the final approach, I was in the zone. I was checking instruments here and there and had my eyes on the runway making sure that I was aligned. I didn’t really have the experience to judge if I was too high, but fortunately Tom cued me when I had to reduce power.
I think that my time playing flying games and simulators has helped me get a broad, innate sense of landing a plane. Tom said that the landing went really well and that he “barely touched the controls.” I was pretty happy to hear that, especially since it was my first landing!
I was mentally working hard throughout the flight but especially during the landing, ensuring that I was doing things properly and trying to learn and commit to memory everything that we did. By the time I got home I flopped onto my bed and immediately went to sleep–I was exhausted! It was a great day filled with lots of learning, and I’m grateful that Tom trusted me enough to let me have as much control as he did during taxi, takeoff, and landing.