Chocks away: Learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.

June 1, 2015 by . 0 comments

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Back when I started my flight training I decided to take notes after every flight. I figured it might be interesting for someone at some point, but I soon realized it was a great tool for reflection and learning. Now, more than a year after passing my private pilot checkride, and my flight hours having entered the three digit range, I figured I’d share my diary with you in a series of posts, along with one or two reflections after a few more hours of experience. I hope you enjoy it!

Day 1

Katana DA20 We sit in the cockpit of the Katana DA20, parked on the ramp at Worms airport, Germany. It’s a rather small aircraft, and it’s cramped. My instructor talks me through the very basics, how to put your hand around the controls, the throttle and RPM levers with a finger still touching the console to get a feel for the lever position without looking and having the hand positioned to move both levers forward if need be. The Katana has a constant speed prop, which some may argue is overly complex for a trainer, but I don’t agree, I think it’s good to have it in you right from the start. On the other hand, the Rotax equipped Katana doesn’t have a mixture control, which I think would’ve been beneficial so I guess it evens out.

We talk about instruments, and how the most important ‘instrument’ of them all is the horizon and how it is positioned relative to your view out the canopy. Being an expat, I have some minor issues recognizing the German names for the flight instruments and control surfaces, but having been interested in airplanes and aviation for a while on a theoretical level, the function of the actual instruments need no explaining and we move on to the before engine start and engine start checklists. And there I am, sitting in a general aviation aircraft with the engine running for the first time in my life.

We start taxiing out to the active runway (which happened to be runway 6). The Katana does not have nose wheel steering, so I’m left with differential braking and rudder to steer with, which turns out to be virtually impossible. No way I’ll ever be able to taxi in a straight line with this aircraft. A few twists and turns later we get to the active and more checklists. My instructor takes the controls, gets on the radio, and in what felt like half a second we’re off the ground.

I’m soon handed the controls, “fly straight ahead, keep the horizon where it’s at, aim for those wind turbines”. Right. Easier said than done. It’s a warm day with a lot of thermals (not really, but it sure felt like it at the time) shaking and rocking the plane in all possible directions. But I’m getting the hang of it and after a while the airplane settles into a steady climb, and it’s soon time to level off at 2500 feet (2200 AGL).

I get to practice a few turns. Turns out turning while maintaining level flight, not as easy as it sounds, and I soon find myself at 3000. I probably wouldn’t have noticed either, had my instructor not pointed it out to me. After that I keep a closer watch on my altimeter and VSI and I actually pull off a couple of level turns. Back and forth, left, right, full circle. All of a sudden we’re already over Heidelberg.

Heidelberg CastleWe flew a circle around the castle and I spot a few paragliders launching off the mountain. They felt dangerously close. Of course they weren’t, we were at least 2000 ft above them. It’s a whole other world up here, everything looks different.

On the way back, we practiced rolling the aircraft in and out of turns using coordinated rudder, an exercise often referred to as a ‘dutch roll’, although it’s actually a misnomer as a dutch roll is something vastly different and quite a serious condition to find yourself in. But I digress. We moved on to practice climbing and descending turns. Maintaining the proper climb airspeed and nose up attitude is not quite as hard as maintaining level flight, but it sure requires attention. Maintaining the higher speed during the descending turn and subsequent straight descent turns out to be pretty easy for some reason though.

We head back to Worms. My instructor takes the controls as we enter the pattern and we run through the before landing checklists. The final approach is considerably steeper than I had expected, with 1000 ft/min on the VSI. The sharp nose down attitude with full flaps is also going to take some getting used to. We touch down softly, and after we turn off the runway at the last exit and run our after landing checklists, he hands the controls to me and it’s time to taxi back to the hangar. It’s just as much of a train wreck as before, and I’m still having trouble reaching those toe-brakes.

We shut down the engine, open up the canopy, and I step out with a grin from ear to ear. I will never be able to do this without an instructor, but right now, I don’t care.

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