Ups and downs, Logging the A-Check

Blog Learning To Fly

In my last update I said Consistency was really important, so this week I am booked in for no less than four, that’s right FOUR lessons… weather permitting of course.

When I started out on this journey of self discovery and education (because that’s what it’s fast becoming) I had no real idea of what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park but I had at least hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult. Then I had the first lesson. It dawned on me, like a strong kick in the plumbs that I may have bitten off quite a lot more than I could chew, the enormity of the task ahead, the amount of work involved and the new skills this older dog had to learn made me seriously doubt whether I could actually achieve my goal of gaining a Private Pilots License.

Today though was the first day I have not really worried about the future, it’s the first time I have looked ahead and thought I am actually capable of doing this. I could actually become a member of that elite group of people known as Pilots.

On reflection I think it’s because I have had a little more consistency in my learning schedule, with only a few days between flights I have been able to almost master the essential basic control skills required. I am comfortable with the amount of pressure one needs to exert, I have begun to learn how the aircraft should feel during flight, how it should sound and I am learning to look out at the world and not down at the dials.

My instructor for the day was Charlotte, a recent addition to the GoFly team. Charlotte has a wealth of experience in her log-book and is an extremely confident and smooth pilot. I’m pretty sure when most people learn how to drive, they do so with only one instructor, that same person taking them from beginner to passing. I discover in flying, this is not the case. You will tend to learn with a number of Flight Instructors, sometimes even two in one day if you’re lucky enough to book double lessons. Think about it, isn’t it better to fly with multiple instructors? Everyone has a different technique and not every F.I. knows everything about flying… Capt. Mark Phillips for example uses the big hand on the clock right/left rule for choosing which fuel tank to use, whereas Charlotte teaches a different technique (switch every 15min) I found too that Charlotte is more likely to leave you to figure out your own mistakes whereas Mark pulls you up on your faux-pas much more quickly. Different F.I’s, different backgrounds, different approaches but nonetheless just as effective.

Today’s lesson covered Exercises 4+5, 6 part 1 and 2, 7 and 8 part 1. In English, this is basically “straight and level flight” and “ascending and descending” using different power settings and level of flaps.

Here we go then, its all about the Mnemonics in aviation and here’s one I have previously mentioned.

  • P – Power
  • A – Attitude
  • T – Trim

Ascending – or gaining altitude.

Positively apply full power and hold the nose in the attitude you require, you’ll need to push forwards on the yoke as the aircraft nose will naturally want to rise with the increased power. You’ll also need a squeeze of rudder due to the rotation of the prop and its effect on the aircraft. For a nice steady climb keep the airspeed around 80kts, then trim out the forward pressure once the aircraft has settled.

Leveling off from a climb

This is the only time when the Mnemonic changes from P.A.T. to A.P.T whereby you settle on the attitude you require, allow the airspeed to creep up a touch to the required cruise speed, adjust the power to about 70 percent and hold it in level flight with a slight back pressure on the yoke, then trim for “straight and level” flight.

Descending – unpowered gliding descent

Today’s lesson covered descending but without the use of power. A steady and gradual loss of altitude using the aircraft’s “maximum glide speed” or the best speed to achieve the greatest distance without power. In the case of the PA28-161 with the heavy diesel Jet-A1 engine, this is 73kts (but 75 is pretty good). So, with the Mnemonic P.A.T. in mind, smoothly and positively reduce the power to idol, the aircraft naturally wants to drop the nose so backward pressure on the yoke to maintain level flight. Allow the airspeed to level off at 73kts (75kts is acceptable) then trim to alleviate the back-pressure.

Leveling off from a descent

Again, its back to the Mnemonic. Power. Attitude. Trim. Positively apply power, around 75 percent and hold the nose straight and level. You’re adding power so you’ll need to counterbalance with rudder and of course the nose will naturally want to lift so you’ll need to apply forward pressure. Once it’s all settled down, trim and check the airspeed.

The final part of the lesson today was doing the above, but with different levels of flaps engaged. Flaps have the effect of adding more lift and drag to the aircraft, which means you can fly at lower speeds before stalling, the controls require more input at lower speeds and I found at least it took a bit more fiddling to find the straight and level flight. Applying (or lowering) flaps in flight results in “ballooning” where the aircraft almost immediately rises, which of course you counteract by pushing forward on the yoke… set the power, set the attitude and then trim.

Today was a good day. I have finally found a bit more confidence in my skill set and practically at least, I think I might actually be able to do this!

If you have ever thought “what if?” or “could I maybe?” just do it. Give it a go. Take a trial lesson and see if learning to fly is for you… because the more I do it, the more I love it and the more I want to get into the air.

I’m pleased to say I have also begun filling out my log-book which has at last made all this seem real. Actual flight time, actually adding up to me getting the license. Medical tomorrow – I hope his hands are warm!