Learning to Fly in 23 days – Day One (The trip)

The flight over to Florida was uneventful.  Some turbulence at the departing end (hah, I’ve flown in worse myself) and looking out the window trying to guess base and ceiling of cloud layers and the cloud types.  Check the altitude and temperature indications on the entertainment system… how far away from ISA standard?

Orlando airport was much harder work.  25 queues to chose from for immigration and I, together with 40 other idiots, chose the one with Officer Jobsworth.  A guy who came out of the aircraft just after me and joined the neighbouring queue got through 25 minutes before me!  When I got through I had 5-6 people behind me (everyone else having joined other queues as we went along) and no other queue had more than 2-3 people.  The same thing happens to me in super markets. If anyone can tell me the technique to pick a good queue I’d pay a nifty ransom. Through immigration, pick up suitcases and check them back in… ‘scuse me?  Yep, hand over the suitcases again, go through security with your carry-on. Take a shuttle to the main terminal building and pick up your suitcases a second time.  There’s got to be a good reason hidden somewhere but I’ve yet to think up what it could be.  It took me a total of 2 hours to get from the airplane to the free world.  I had feared that my address in the US (Being that of the flight school) was going to set all sort of alarm bells off.  Not a batted eye-lid, not a single question.

For my first day of pilot training they had laid out a slightly out of the ordinary schedule: Normally a student who has just arrived overseas only get 1 flying session on the first day but since I was such a wise-guy who had taken all the written exams in advance, already done 14 hours of flying and had requested to do both the FAA and JAR/CAA they scheduled two 2-hours sessions.

Before getting this far I had spent 3 hours with the instructor who had been assigned to me for the duration of my training, Gerry. A Dutch commercial pilot 1 foot taller than me with the width and breadth to match. Man I’m glad we were going to fly in a PA-28 and not a Cessna 150!  This could get very cosy. He had trained at the school before but this time around he arrived at the school the same day as I, but he had arrived from Las Vegas where he had a job transporting freight into Las Vegas from various locations on the west coast.  Gerry had yet to lose a student (either by flying death or failing) and I’m sure we are going to have fun with his Dutch English and my Danish English.  “Set throttle 1,100ft”.  “When you turn at a low speed you can make the turn more…erm… narrow..” “Tighter?”  “Yeah, tighter. Much better word. Thanks”.  The important thing, though, as with everything in life, is trust.  I trust he can teach me to fly and I trust he’s not going to get me killed, ‘cause he obviously knows what he’s doing and he has a sensible practical approach to the whole venture.

Gerry informed me that today we would do basic manoeuvres but I wouldn’t do take-off and landings until tomorrow.  In our first sessions we did Steep Turns which are 45 degree turns to the left and the right. In these sort of turns the passengers get the feeling they are 90 degrees in as much as the wing appears to be perpendicular to the ground. From a technical point of view the skill is to fly a constant rate of turn (i.e. 45 degrees) at a constant altitude while mainly looking out the windows and not at the instruments. Having failed at enough of these we went on to stalls; with and without flaps or as “we” say: In clean and landing configuration.  Stalls have never phased me and the most difficult is to get a safe General Aviation aircraft like the Piper into a stall. One hour and 35 minutes of fun and it was back to the airfield for a delayed lunch.

After lunch it was off again for another late afternoon session.  “My” aircraft N32990 had been flying while we had been eating and the instructor had reported a fault with the engine so it was already on to a replacement aircraft. Interestingly enough, though this aircraft worked fundamentally like the previous and the one I flew in the UK all 3 were different in material way and all had their own peculiarities that had to be taken into consideration. I guess that’s why ships and aircrafts are “she”. The first of undoubtedly many surprises came after the run-up: As we taxied on to the runway for take-off Gerry leaned back in the seat, let go of the column and said: “You have control”.  My first take-off. I kept her nicely on the centreline and rotated (took off) at 55 knots. We climbed quickly to 1,000ft and left the pattern (circuit in the UK) which is the holding pattern for aircrafts flying in close proximity to the airport. We did more steep turns, S-turns and turn around a point.  After a few (intentional) stalls we went back towards the airport.  Having disclosed to Gerry that my lowest score was in the Navigation exams, that I couldn’t find the airport to fly from when I did my written flight-plan, that I came from a family where my mum have got lost in the parking area in front of my sisters house AND that I had got lost that morning when I went for a jog he was well aware this might be a problem during training. He asked me to point out where the airport was.  I thought I recognized one lake (of the thousands in the area) and pointed in the appropriate direction which happened to be correct. He had me go through all the checks on the downwind-leg and the base and when we were on final he asked me to pay attention to the details as he did a touch-and-go. Up we went again, cross-wind and “I had control” turning downwind. Do the checks again, turn onto base, a bit slow starting descend, turn onto finale, too high, full flaps, still too high… you still have control, watch the 10 knots 30 degree crosswind, lower the nose, too high, you’re off the middle, watch the wind, you’re too slow; lower the nose, cross control by turning left and right rudder and we’re close, closer, closer, back pressure on column – flare – and we’re down. Flaps up, full power and do it again.  Another 2 touch and go landings with less and less help from Gerry and after 2 hours of flying we finally went for the full-stop landing. 1 hour of debrief, 1 hour of shopping (Jeez, it’s cheap here!) and it was 21:00 before we sat down at the house eating Domino’s pizza and philosophising about today’s events.

I was shattered. 3.5 hours flying in one day and I had begun to learn 3 completely new manoeuvres I hadn’t even heard of before, I had taken off for the first time ever and I had landed (albeit with help) for the first time ever. I’m still bitten and can’t wait until my first solo. I guess in 3-4 days time, but we’ll see.

Summary after 1 day:
Flown: 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Total flying time: 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Solo: 0 hours and 0 minutes.
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