Rewarding talent | diary of a student pilot | Week 1

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The great thing about 6th form is that you get so many study periods- for me, it’s an excuse to break out the Flying Training Manual and swot up before my 4pm lesson- I mean, who wants to do homework when you could be getting closer to being licensed to fly a plane!?

The bell rings at 3pm- grab my bags and run out to the front of school, wait impatiently for the limo to arrive (Dad’s taxi) so I can get up in the air!! 3.15pm, and I’m in the car on the way to Cranfield Flying School and I can’t wait to get into the teeny tiny Cessna and finish off stalling exercises.

The first time I went up in a plane was exhilarating- it doesn’t get much better than being 3,000 feet above the rest of the world. Especially if you’re short like me… But it isn’t just being so high off the ground that’s fun; it’s actually being in control of a plane, and thinking, ‘Hey, this is me. I’m actually flying a plane! If I turn this way, the plane turns this way; if I pull it back, the plane goes up, push it away, it goes down. Easy peasy, right?

But back to today. After the first few lessons, I realized it isn’t all as easy as that- trimming for example. I didn’t get the hang of that for at least two lessons, but once you get the hang of the fact that you trim down to keep the nose down, and trim up to keep the nose up, it’s easy enough… so she says.

Stalling’s pretty fun- you pull the carb heat out, throttle back and pull back on the control wheel. BEEP! Annoying noise goes off, you push the control wheel away, stick the carb heat back in and increase power all at the same time and bam- recovery.

Once the instructor thought I had the hang of it (I’ve done about 2 hours worth by now, so I’ve got it down- I hope), we went into circuits. Basically, you go round the aerodrome in a big rectangle, either to the left or the right, depending on which circuit the aerodrome are running with. Climb to 200ft, commence after take-off checks; keep climbing to about 500ft.

Keep looking out for other air traffic, because you do not want to bang into another plane- safe to say, your flying days might be over. Then turn left/right 90o (depending on the circuit) and keep climbing to around 800ft. When the runway is about 45o behind you, turn left/right again, onto the downwind leg, and go through the radio calls. This is the hardest bit for me- I’m always worried I might say the wrong thing, and sometimes it’s hard to repeat what ATC tell you, because they talk so fast.

Around now, you’ve got to do pre-landing checks too- brakes, fuel, temps, pressures, alternator charging and suction; you know the drill. More checks but they have to be done, because safety is key.

Then, once you’re at a 45o angle from the runway, you turn left/right 90o again, reduce power to about 1500RPM, put two stages of flap down. Nose attitude is lower seeing as you’re descending. You should be travelling at about 70-75kts.

Turn the plane onto the final, radio ATC, and land the plane on the runway- hopefully there’s no crosswind, otherwise you have to crab into the wind, and it’s super hard to line up with the centre line. Once you’re pretty much on the runway, reduce power and keep the nose up to counteract the sink (which I keep forgetting to do)! Wheels hit the runway (with any luck, without squealing too much) and- you just landed a plane!

We were doing touch-and-go’s, so you keep the plane rolling on the centre line, push carb heat in, smoothly push the throttle in, wait for airspeed to increase and apply back pressure and we have lift-off! Sounds simple enough, but with a crosswind, you have to be really careful to fly into it, so it doesn’t try to flip the plane- which it almost did today- it was definitely the scariest moment so far in my PPL training.

By then, I was absolutely knackered and really ready to go home to bed (and pretend that I didn’t have any homework due in for tomorrow), so I decided to wrap it up after four touch-and-go’s. I landed the plane quickly and hurried inside to fill in my log book.

But I have to warn you, one of the side effects of flying is that when you come back down to earth, you’re a little vague about everything- your head’s still up in the clouds! :)