Friday, May 22, 2009

Trial Instructional Flight

Today, I decided to finally start on my dream of learning to fly a light aircraft.

I've wanted to learn for years now and I figured it was time to take the plunge. Interestingly, this desire to learn began from flying commercially on holidays - I've always had this weird, unexplainable fear of oxygen masks on planes and I figured that light aircraft was a way to fly without having to worry about the oxygen masks. Now, a fair few years down the line, I just want to learn to fly for the challenge of it.

I did some research on flying schools in Melbourne and realised that it is far, far cheaper to learn at a little airport on the outside of the city than at one of the inner city airports like Moorabbin or Essendon. Luckily for me, Lilydale happens to be closer to my house anyway.

So today, having booked my flight last Monday, I headed off to Lilydale Airport. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I expected something different to a small building in the middle of a field surrounded by little planes. I didn't expect much, but I did expect a paved runway at least... Still, I figured they knew what they were doing!

I went in and met my 'pilot' for the day - now my instructor. His name (which I promptly forgot at the time but was reminded of later) is Jeremy.

First there was a briefing where Jeremy explained the basic physics of how a plane flies - using a rather cute model plane. The main parts of the plane we discussed that day were the Ailerons (flaps on the wings), the Elevator (horizontal flap on the back) and the Rudder (vertical flap attached to the vertical stabilizer - the tail). Each of these flaps has a primary and secondary characteristic. Jeremy asked if I knew that 'each action has an opposite and equal reaction'. I promptly replied that I failed physics at school (yay for Year 7 science!) and he said that he nearly did too. After my initial thought of 'well we're a good team', I figured that gave me hope since, in general, I'm pretty hopeless at physics. The primary effect of the Ailerons is to roll the plane to the side, the secondary effect is to yaw the nose down slightly and to the side. The primary effect of the Elevator is to control the pitch of the plane (move the nose up and down) with the secondary effect of raising or lowering the airspeed. The primary effect of the Rudder is to yaw the plane to the left/right with the secondary effect of rolling the plane.

With that sorted, we headed out to the plane, a Jabiru. My first reaction was 'wow it's small'.

Photo copyright Andrei Bezmylov

I managed to get in (bum in first, then swing legs in, incase anyone's wondering), got strapped in, headset on and, after a short description of each of the instruments (which I mostly promptly forgot), we were off!

We trundled across the grass and onto the (also grass) runway. After a warning that it would be rather bouncy, we headed down the runway and took off. It was pretty awesome, seeing the world get smaller but way better than a commercial airliner because you can still see the ground when you're up there!

We flew to the training area near the airport and Jeremy again explained about the different controls. Then I got to have a try. First one to try was the elevator, which is controlled using the stick control column inbetween the seats. By moving the stick backwards and forwards you can control the pitch of the nose of the plane. Interestingly, you don't need to move the stick much to get a fairly large response.

Second was the Ailerons. By moving the stick to the right/left you could roll the plane in that direction. Rolling the plane has the effect of causing the nose to yaw to the side and downwards, so to control that you have to pull the stick back slightly to keep the nose up while rolling. That was also easier than expected.

Finally, there was the Rudder. This is controlled using pedals on the floor (where the brake/accelerator pedals are located in a car). This was the hardest, as I found the pedals fairly stiff to push, although I think I was expected an easy response like a car pedal, which is illogical really. Pressing on the rudder causes the plane to roll as well so this needs to be controlled using the Ailerons at the same time. There is a turn indicator instrument which looks (and acts) rather like a Spirit level - you have to keep the ball between the two lines. I didn't quite manage that but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

That was the end of our (very speedy) 45 minutes, so we headed back to the airport and landed.

I didn't feel the way I expected to feel while flying. I expected a huge adrenaline rush, but I mainly just felt confused. That's logical though, I was fairly busy concentrating on doing what I was told and not doing something stupid and didn't really have time to feel the rush. I was a bit disappointed, but then I thought about it logically - when I started to drive I spent the entire time worrying about mirrors and indicators etc and didn't have time to feel the same joy I feel when I drive now, so why would it be any different when flying? I figured I'd have more lessons and see how it went.

Overall, it was an awesome experience and if anyone out there has ever considered flying, give it a go. Sure it's expensive, but it's a pretty cool experience to have!