If you have ever been on stage, you’ll understand the feeling of stage fright, the way nerves grip your insides, how everything squirms, your heart pounds, your breath becomes shallow and you feel like you just want to close your eyes and run. You look out towards the audience from the wings and you know they’re going to scrutinise your every move, your performance has to be perfect and the pressure to be perfect is immense… then there’s being thrown in at the deep end and just getting on with it. You don’t have time to think, you just do, and I did. My first take off!
There we were, having just completed the pre-flight checks and Capt. Dan Jack, instructed me to “line up” (getting yourself positioned, middle of the runway, ready to go) Then, when we got to the runway he said “you may as well do this one”, which I have to admit threw me a little but my few hours of training kicked in and I started talking my way through the process. Brakes on, full power… ready to go, release… (you can see the whole thing in the video below)
I’m sure you have already been in an aircraft and have experienced the “thrust” at take off, but it is still, even now, surprising just how quickly a little Piper PA28 Diesel gets its self moving, especially when every fiber of your being wants to steer it down the runway at ever increasing speeds with your hands and not your feet. There was a little cross breeze of a few knots so, ailerons into the wind, steering with the rudder and before I knew it, we were hitting 55 knots and the aircraft was starting to get light… then, seconds later wheels were up and we were in the air… careering or so I felt towards some pig huts, a road and Old Sarum Castle far too quickly for comfort… I have less confidence in my ability than Dan Jack, who gently reminded me to relax, and I coaxed the plane into the air and towards 1100 feet. So what did I learn from this first take-off experience? Well, 1. Don’t panic, the aircraft fly’s better than me. 2. less of “boot full of rudder” and more a “gentle squeeze” as its far to easy to over-do the rudder and cause the aeroplane to yaw, roll and slip oh and 3… I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN!
The next part of the lesson was turning, a medium 30 degree turn in each direction while maintaining altitude. More difficult than it looks, but quite easy to master. You’ll know from driving that every car has its own cruising speed, the speed at which it settles comfortably on the motorway, mine (annoyingly) sits at 76 so its on with the cruise control. The same can be said for pilots in turns apparently because my novice technique balances around 25 degrees and I have to really think about pushing for a greater angle of turn. The only thing I can tell you, for now about turning an aircraft is, a little squeeze of rudder to keep it balanced (in the direction of the turn, so a right turn requires a little touch of right rudder) and a little back pressure on the yoke to maintain altitude. Get all of the above in balance and the result is a nice smooth turn.
I have never been one for practicing, or revising. I hated, as a kid having to practice piano for an hour a day, learning lines for a school play, or revising for exams but all of the lessons, up to this one have been about learning how to control the aircraft, how the controls work and how they have an effect of the machine. Its from here everything will now begin to come together. All I have learned in the air and in the classroom will be become one show… a show I don’t mind practicing for and a performance that I don’t want to miss.