Lesson One – One day I’ll fly away… but not for a while eh Randy?

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Im sure you know what an “earworm” is? It’s that song you cant get out of your head, it plays on continual repeat in your mind and today, from the moment I woke up all I have head in my head is that particular lyric by Randy Crawford and the Crusades “One Day I’ll Fly Away”. Except right now, that day is quite a way away. I have to learn so many things both mentally and physically. I have to learn a whole new language and form of dexterity, teaching my arms legs and eyes to co-ordinate in ways they have never had to work before.

Today was all about exercise 4, 5 and 6. Primary and secondary effects of the controls, Taxiing and Straight and Level Flight. I was, understandably nervous. Actually, from the moment I woke up I had butterflies, a mixed set of emotions from nervousness to excitement to down right fear. Im still nervous about flying, well thats not quite right, I love flying, I’m just nervous about being in-control but thats what these lessons are for though, to teach me how to be in control of and responsible for an aircraft. I felt like a 17 year old learning how to drive, those memories of bravado and sudden realisation came back to me all over again. I think back to my first lesson, in a car into which I ran with blind confidence and soon realised my ambition far outstripped my talent.

Thankfully today I manage to not stall the vehicle of choice, but then, a Piper P28 Warrior MKIII with its JET-A1 engine is a far cry from a faded red Nissan Micra… although, I think there is probably more space in a Micra – the cabin of a light aircraft is, lets say, “snug”.

I have to say that, I am creating these blogs for a number of reasons, primarily to document or diarise my journey and share with you, the reader just how easy it really is to get a PPL (I am informed). It’s also a really great way to help me revise all of the information from the day and hopefully as a bi-product of that an interesting and useful resource for you too…

Not everyone will have the same course or even do everything in exactly the same order but the content is the same.

First lesson today was check lists – we’ll cover the importance of these in another update so on to Taxiiing. There’s more to it than meets the eye, but for me I think this will be one of those skills that comes more naturally – I just need to remember that its my feet that do the steering and not my hands, but apparently according to my instructor for the day, Captain Mark Phillips, a naval pilot turned commercial airline pilot and flight instructor, if you hold yoke in the middle, not on the control surface as this will reduce the urge to try and steer the aircraft like a car. It feels un-natural at first but fast becomes familiar. You have 2 pedals, right goes right and left goes left, simple enough, but on each toe there is a brake, which operates each wheel’s disc-brake independently, so not only can you steer by turning the nose wheel (which is connected to the rudder) but you can turn more tightly by braking just one wheel, like everything with flying, it’s a balancing act you soon become used to. Slowly, slowly, smooth actions. When taxiing, its probably wise to remember the following: Yellow marks the apron, taxiway and aircraft stands. Red marks the fuel area. White marks the runway, Oh and you drive on the right. 

It was into the air and on to exercise  6 next, which covers the beginnings of “Straight and Level Flight” there are a couple of useful Mnemonics to remember here (everything in flying has a Mnemonic).

Without going too far into speeds, powers etc, the basics of straight and level flight is to balance drag with thrust and gravity with lift, essentially keeping the aircraft flying horizontal. The flaps create more lift but with this there is a trade-off as they also introduce drag, slowing the aircraft down, meaning you’re not flying efficiently, or particularly fast, it does mean you get a better view of the ground and because you’re slower, its easier to land. In cruise however, when you want to get somewhere you need to set the aircraft up to be efficient, gaining the best possible speed, essentially pitch the nose up which gives you a better view of the horizon while “clean wings” (no flaps) gives you less lift, but a higher speed.  

When you balance all of those forces out, you’re in straight and level flight. The process of balancing the aircraft can be described in a  Mnemonic:

Mnemonics of the day:

PAT:

  • Power – Engine power
  • Attitude – the angle of the aircraft, or its pitch
  • Trim – trim the elevator to take the pressure off the yoke

CAT:

  • Check – Check your attitude – are you level?
  • Attitude – adjust the attitude if necessary
  • Trim – Trim the aircraft

It is important to remember that, unlike a car, the effect of controls is not instant in an aircraft. You must wait for things to settle down, or you’ll be chasing yourself and continually making changes to your attitude or direction. “Settling time” shouldn’t be overlooked. Setup, Maintain, Regain.

FREDA checks are performed continually while in the air, its the most basic check you should routinely perform while flying and is known as a “Cruise Check”. You’ll find yourself carrying this check out almost unconsciously, like checking your rear-view mirror while driving. 

FREDA:

  • Fuel – how much fuel is there? Are you on the correct tank? (note the use of the word correct and not right)
  • Radio – Correct channel set? Transponder correct?
  • Engine – Temperature, pressure etc are within operating parameters (in the green)
  • Direction – Direction Indicator (DI) alighted to the magnetic compass?
  • Altitude – Are you at the correct altitude?

HASELL:

Not really something we covered in the lesson, but its a Mnemonic that needs to be submitted to memory all the same. Normally connected with doing something outside of “straight and level” such as entering acrobatics, or about to practice stall recovery. 

  • Height – Are you at the correct altitude for what you are about to do?
  • Airframe – Is the aircraft set up for what you are about to do, Flaps, landing gear etc
  • Security – Doors shut, seatbelts fastened and everything secure?
  • Location – Are you in the correct location for what you are about to do?
  • Lookout – Is anything outside going to cause a conflict?

 

TEM – Once known as (and still referred to as) Airmanship

What used to be known as “Airmanship” has been re-dressed in a high-visibility vest and pepped up a bit (its basically still the same though). Airmanship essentially covers good practice and risk management or:

TEM:

  • Threat
  • Error
  • Management

It sounds super dull but in order to be a good pilot, you need to be conscious of it. A threat could be, running out of fuel in one tank… the error of which is failing to switch tanks (and you REALLY dont want to run a JET-A1 fuelled aircraft out of fuel (Diesel basically) The threat and potential error are managed by carrying out regular FREDA checks (Fuel, Radio, Engine, D.I. Altitude).

The idea of VFR flight (Visual Flight Rules) is that you’re controlling the aircraft without too much reference to the dials and indicators. You’re using the body of the machine, your eyes and perception to keep things in-check. Much like driving your car, when you know that lining the end of the car up with a certain position on the road, you know the car is going to go there, in an aircraft you do the same with the instrument cowling, the engine cover and the magnetic compass. Line the compass up on the horizon and you’re pretty much level. A quick check of the vertical speed indicator and the altimeter to ensure you’re not creeping up or down and PAT where required.

When flying VFR, you could be passing through, under or close to controlled airspace so it’s important to remember “Anchor Points”. An Anchor point is a point on the ground to be familiar with that you either fly around. So long as you’re anchored to these points, you shouldn’t stray into controlled space. “Anchor Points” shouldn’t be confused with “Reference Points” which are points on the horizon you use under VFR rules to fly towards, such as clumps of trees, fields, NON moving objects (don’t aim for a cloud as these buggers move).

So what did I gain out of my first lesson? Well on reflection more than I thought. Im looking ahead at this long scary road but if I break that road down into rest-stops its not so bad. I can perform the A-check and the pre-flight checks. Im also confident that with another couple of outings I will nail the taxiing too. Drive on the right “check” pedals steer, right foot goes right and does not increase speed… parking brake (unlike my car) is not automatic… submitted to memory.

I also learned the “correct” way to point out other aircraft or conflicts, which is essentially very simple. You highlight what side of the aircraft first, then based on a clock with the front of the aircraft being 12, the location of the conflict, then the conflicts height… so “Right, 2 O’clock, Level” would bring your attention to an aircraft or other conflict to the right, in a 2 o’clock direction on the same or similar level to you.

The featured image of this blog is the instrument panel of G-BWOI, the aircraft I’ll be doing most of my training in. It’s a view I need to become extremely familiar with.

The lesson today rounded off with a bit of “fun” as after all, I’m not doing this to be commercial. I want to fly the aircraft for fun, for a hobby so Capt. Mark showed me a little trick, the pilots halo. With Partial IFR (instrument flight rules) one can clip the cloud to kick up some moisture and with the sun at 3 O’clock you get a beautiful shadow of the aircraft, surrounded in a perfect round rainbow on the opposite wing. This phenomena is known as “The Pilots Halo” which of course, is left in the clouds.

You can drop in on the best bits of the lesson in the first of my Video Updates…