Lesson 2. Straight and Level – 9am, June 19 2004

Well the weather had been crap all week. Friday the rain bucketed down and I was sorely tempted to cancel the lesson. After all, it was Field Days week and it always rains during the Field Days. Saturday morning had big sections of blue sky among the large grey shower clouds and after ringing the Aero Club dutifully (the important thing to remember is that although its your money the Instructor is in charge of the flight and they decide if you fly or not) I was invited down for the briefing and hopefully the weather would clear enough for the lesson.

Met a new instructor, a young guy in his early/mid 20’s called Ryan (another nice guy, but hey, they are all nice so what do you expect). Ryan went through the briefing like a machine. There was not a single question I could ask that he didn’t have an answer for. After the briefing was over the weather had packed it in over the training area but the blue patches were still around, so we decided to wait it out. After about an hour of flicking through various Aviation magazines while Ryan left me alone and chatted to his mates in the back office, he appeared and declared that the weather was good enough for us to get airborne for a look.

The major difference here from lesson one was that Ryan made me do everything. Not because he was slack, in fact far from it, but because I believe he thought I should learn how to do it then and there. I did the walkaround check first – essentially a visual check of the aircraft and its control surfaces, a visual confirmation of how much fuel was onboard (this is a great confidence builder because before you take off you know to the approximate litre how much fuel is aboard the plane) and an oil check. During this time the oil hatch latching system developed a fault (the spring that held the latch had broken) so Ryan went to grab some duct tape while I got to drop the flaps for their check. By that time I had managed to get into the aircraft (this time it was ZK-JAF, a 4 seat plane and one that could better accommodate a 6’1 student and a 6’2 flight instructor) and tangle myself up in the headset cable and the seatbelt.

Ryan taped down the oil hatch and hopped in and proceeded to give me a detailed rundown of the pre-start check. Unfortunately, the fuel primer lever was jammed closed so he did a sneaky and primed it with the throttle (not proper procedure but I’ve done it on old cars so I knew it would be fine) and then I got to start it properly. Once that was done, Ryan switched the radios on and got the weather report and pressure settings for the altimeter and had me switch the transponder to standby and the radio to the ATC frequency.

I was hanging in there, my old brain surviving on my obsessive reading of the flight manual and numerous trips on the internet to aviation websites and newsgroups. Ryan got us taxi clearance and Ryan had me taxi us to the holding point, which I did an OK job of.

Then it was the engine run up and brake checks, double checking the instruments and setting the correct compass and heading settings.

Ryan: “Juliet Alpha Foxtrot, Ready.”

ATC: “Juliet Alpha Foxtrot, lineup Grass 26, cleared for take off. Report clear of airspace”

Ryan: “Lineup Grass 26, cleared for take off. Report clear of airspace. Juliet Alpha Foxtrot”

Ryan then taxied us onto the runway. Then he decided that it was my turn to do a take off (now that completely threw me as I was definitely not expecting to do this) so while I was in shock he quickly did the take off checks. Actually as first take offs go it wasn’t too bad. I eased the power in steadily and eased in the right rudder. “Right rudder, keep us on the runway,” came the calm voice of Ryan so I put more rudder in and we straightened up. Then I checked the airspeed as Ryan told me to ease the nose up but I didn’t bring the nose up fast enough to he added some more force to my feeble effort and the nose came up. Then we were airborne and I held her steady in the climb as I could as he went about going through the ‘after take off’ checks (flaps to zero, landing light off). I think I did fairly well at holding the plane in the climb although I didn’t once check our airspeed. Then I flew us towards Temple View and the training area.

Well, the lesson was straight and level, but I don’t know what the heck was going on. I was supposed to level out at 1800 feet and it ended up being something like 1830 feet with a nose up attitude and a slow climb at 107 knots. But we stuck at it and apart from one real moment of brain fade where I was turning the trim wheel the wrong way, we almost ended up in a stall and I pushed the nose down a bit too vigourously and felt negative G for the first time for a couple of seconds and it wasn’t comfortable I can tell you. My best manoeuvre of the day was a straight and level pull out from a powered descent where I nailed the numbers to a T. Ryan said nothing but decided it was time to go home. I flew us into the base leg once again before we were given clearance to land on the asphalt runway as the grass strip would not be very safe after all the rain. Ryan flew us on a fairly good approach. When we touched down the front nosewheel made a terrible noise and the front vibrated. Ryan informed me that we had a nosewheel shimmy in the sort of voice of a pilot who gets nosewheel shimmies all the time (after asking him he said it does happen a lot, but not normally as bad as we got it then). Ryan attempted to lift the nosewheel clear and replace it on the runway but we had lost too much airspeed and he had to put the brakes on or we’d go well past the Aero club taxiway. Once we got onto the grass the shimmy was not nearly as bad. I taxied us around a pot hole but too close for comfort to another aircraft so Ryan had to turn us away from it. I was in total brain overload and kept closing the throttle when I meant to open it and all sorts of stupid mistakes. I got us back to the spot we left from and we went through the shutdown checks and I got to stop the engine. We didn’t debrief because Ryan had another lesson starting straight away but he corrected my logbook and we fixed another time for my next lesson and got me sorted for the night classes for the aviation exams which I will need to pass before I can get my license. He did say that my once a week flying will mean an entire year will pass before I can get my PPL, but since I cannot afford time off work and weekends are my only option I have no choice (I spoke about having a lesson on Saturday and Sunday but they generally don’t teach on Sundays (its time for solo students to practise their thing) I’ll be sticking with one a week until around Xmas time at least. As I write this I feel more confident that I will do better next time, as I will be ready for more surprises. For me, being ready helps me cope.

As a side note (this part was written after Lesson 11) this was probably my worst lesson to date. I was ready to pack it in after this lesson – I am glad I didn’t. I think that is why the starter pack is an excellent way to start because after 4 lessons you will know whether or not you are cut out for this sort of thing.