Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Learning to Fly (Day 3)

Day three of learning to fly was at Mt. Pleasant Airport again. The sun was low and the wind wasn't noticeable. It was a great time to be flying.

I started out practicing what I had done the day before. After flying a few feet off the ground down the runway twice, Dave called me over for a talk. We chatted for 7 or 8 minutes about the next step. That next step was a big one; flying around the pattern. "Was I really ready after three days," I thought. I knew how to take off, land, and stay straight over the runway. I knew how to do all of that and was able to do it very well, so I was ready. Having thought it over, I had the skills to do it and the confidence to do it.

An Aeronca was taking off as I was taxing up the side of the runway. I taxied up the runway slowly to allow the wingtip vortices coming off the heavier aircraft to dissipate. This also gave me time to think about what I'd be doing. Then it came time for me to actually do it. I was at the end of the runway, on top of a slight hill and I applied power. In no time, I was flying.

I remember looking at the hangars below once I crossed the intersection where the two runways meet. The picture I saw will probably stay in my head for my entire life. As I was looking down, I wondered if I was dreaming. Could I really be flying? Am I now living the dream?

After flying the pattern, the wheels touched down exactly where I wanted it to. It couldn't have been a better landing. Dave came over and my first words were "I like this a lot better than the Rans," referring to another plane that I had gotten a ride in after my first flight lesson. It took everything I had in me to keep from getting out of the plane, jumping up and down while yelling at the top of my lungs like a little kid. That kind of behavior might not grant me a few more trips around the pattern, but I felt good! It was a moment that I have been waiting for as long as I can remember.

Dave told me to fly the pattern three more times, taking off from where I was. At the moment, I was probably a fourth of the way down the runway, so I gave it more throttle from my last takeoff. As soon as I leaped into the air, I was shocked at how much I was climbing. It was like a bat out of hell. I must have been pitched up forty degrees and I wasn't even using half throttle.

I realized that I was too high on my second approach, so I gave it some power and climbed back up and went back around. I made sure to start descending before I did the time before and it resulted in another good landing. After that, I made one more trip around the pattern and called it a day.

A few hours later, I was back inside cooking up some dinner. As I was stirring some pasta together, Dave walked behind me to go to the refrigerator...or maybe not. Sure enough, that slight suspicion was correct. In no time, my shirt tail was cut. My name and the date was written on the shirt square.

I am now tailless; just like the Pterodactyl. It was a dream yesterday, but I'm now living the dream. I'm now a pilot!

Learning to Fly (Day 1 and 2)

As I spend time in Pennsylvania with Dave Froble of DFE Ultralights, I've been learning to fly. Since regulations have made it difficult to get dual instruction in an ultralight trainer, there I would have to learn the old fashion way. Jack McCornack, the designer of the Pterodactyl line of ultralights, developed a training syllabus back in the early 80s. Since the ultralight training exception doesn't exist, that's the way I've been learning. It's just me and the airplane with Dave watching to give me advice.

During the first day of training, we took the airplane to a closed runway at Connelsville Airport. I started off learning how to taxi. First it was a slow taxi straight down the runway. I eventually worked my way up to a fast taxi (15 mph airspeed) while doing s-turns down the runway using wingtip rudders only. At this speed, the ground begins to feel fluid. It felt like I was skating on top of smooth marble.

There was a decent bump going across the runway. I had gone across this bump many times and it was never a problem, so I stopped worrying about it. I shouldn't have stopped worrying about it because as I was doing one of my fast taxi runs, I must have hit a steeper segment of the bump. All three wheels left the ground for a brief moment. As this happened, I immediately pulled the throttle back to keep it from flying further than I wanted it to and it settled back on the ground. The hop got me by surprise and my heart rate backs up that statement.

For lesson two, we went to Mt. Pleasant airport. This is a better location because there's less traffic and grass runways. Grass is more forgiving than pavement and since I would be crow hopping (short hops), I might need it. I started off making short hops down the runway. As soon as it lifted off the ground, I killed the engine and landed. Eventually, I was doing hops all the way down the length of the runway.

Lifting off the ground is an amazing feeling. Landing exactly the way you wanted it to is even better! I'm very close to flying the traffic pattern. That's when I'll call myself a pilot!