My Adventure in the Skies

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog, and thank you for visiting. This is my first attempt at blogging, so please bear with me regarding my writing style, and any grammatical errors you might find. I’m sure I’ll improve with time but I welcome any constructive comments and criticisms you may have as to how I can improve my blog.  Oh, and one other thing, if you’re also a student pilot, please share your experiences on my blog. My goal in writing this blog is to share my experiences and to help others who might be considering learning to fly, not to advise or guide anyone in how to fly; after all I’m only a student pilot! *Smile* Well now that little disclaimer is over with, I’m so very excited to write about my course in attaining my Private Pilot’s License. So please embark on this exciting journey with me to freedom in the skies.

Today I had the introductory flight which cost me $99 for 30 minutes and the experience was simply exhilarating. But before I tell you about it, please allow me to inform you of the requirements I had to fulfill beforehand.

My very first trip to the flight school here in Minneapolis was about 4 weeks or so ago when I went to inquire as to what was required to enroll in the Private Pilot’s License course. I was greeted by a cheerful looking gentleman who introduced himself as simply, John. He told me that he was not an instructor but he did have his Commercial Pilot’s License, and also acted in the capacity of manager of the school. He gave me some papers that basically outlined the cost of the entire course.

There were two methods of payment that I noted i.e. you could pay as you go, or you could prepay the entire course fee and get a $400 discount. The other sheet of paper included a list of AME (Airman Medical Examiner) doctors that I would have to consult in order to obtain a clean health certificate before I could learn to fly. This medical certificate is not a requirement for the introductory flight.

I called the doctor to set up an appointment, but before I could do that, I was informed by the doctor that I had to complete a form
online through the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) website (FAA MedXpress) called Form 8500-8. This form basically asks for your personal details, medical history and any criminal history you might have. The site is a secure website and it allows you to save information and return later to complete the form. Once you’re satisfied, you submit the information to the FAA using a password. The system returns with a confirmation number which your doctor will ask you for so he can access the information submitted to the FAA.

The health check up was relatively simple even though I was a little anxious as to what it might entail. When I visited the prescribed
doctor, I was given a form to complete that basically required family and medical history. Once that was completed, a nurse weighed me and measured my height. Next my eyesight was tested, including peripheral vision. I wasn’t expecting the eye test but I passed that part successfully. The doctor came in and checked my blood pressure, pulse, and used his stethoscope on my chest and back to check for any abnormalities as I was asked to inhale through the nose and to exhale through the mouth. My abdomen was also checked similarly but this time he used his hands. The throat and tongue were checked by asking me to say the proverbial “Aaaaaahhhh”.  Next the skin was examined along with a test for hernias and a urine sample was also taken. Finally, the doctor asked me some general questions as to if I was on any type of medication, if I had any blackouts, dizzy spells, if I was using any recreational drugs or ever used them, or had epilepsy. I answered in the negative to all of these.

Approximately 15 minutes later I was informed that I had successfully passed the health test according to the FAA standards/requirements. I was given a certificate that stated “Medical Certificate Second Class and Student Pilot Certificate”. The certificate displayed my name, address, DOB, height, weight, sex, hair and eye color. Since I wear glasses/lenses, this is clearly stated on the certificate along with the fact that I am prohibited from carrying any passengers. Finally, the name and address of the doctor who carried out the medical examination are also on the certificate.

The Introductory Flight (August 23, 2011 at 3.00pm CT):

It was a glorious, bright sunny day with a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and a slight breeze when I was once again greeted by John who introduced me to my instructor, Mr.Vu Pham. Mr. Pham took me out to on to the tarmac where a number of Cessna’s were standing. He told me that we were going to fly the “Skyhawk” Single Engine Cessna 172 and that it was a fairly modern plane with a number of features that were not in some of the other Cessna’s e.g. GPS system, Modern instrument panel etc.

Apparently I could select the plane I wanted to fly when it came to learning to fly, and the one we were going to fly was $30 extra due to it having the extra features. Anyway, the first thing he told me was that we always go through a list of checks of the plane before we fly (both internal and external checks). We checked the ailerons to see if they moved up and down smoothly, the rudder, the lights of the plane to see if they were working, the wheels, and brakes. We then checked the fuel, which incidentally is located in the wings! Mr. Pham took 4-5 samples of the fuel which was dyed blue to make it easier to detect any water. If there was any water in the fuel, he said it would sink to the bottom and would be clearly evident as water and alcohol did not mix. We were also checking for any debris in the fuel. If either water or debris were present in the fuel we would not fly the plane, not to mention if anything in the check list was not as it should be, we wouldn’t fly the plane either. Some of the internal checks included checking if we had sufficient fuel for our journey, if the seat belts were working correctly and that we were able to communicate with ground control.

Next we boarded the four seater plane and I sat on the left side having adjusted the seat. Mr. Pham handed me my headphones with a microphone as he put on his. He next showed me how the breaks worked and how I could turn the plane using pedals located below, near my feet. I could press the top of the pedals with both feet to stop the plane and I could use the same pedals by pressing one or the other pedal to turn left or right. My instructor then proceeded to start the plane and told me to taxi the plane to the runway for takeoff. We were travelling at about 15-20 mph to the runway and I was to keep the plane in the middle of the road as it were (along the divider line in the road), using the pedals to steer.  Once we got to the run way, my instructor increased the propeller speed and then as we moved off, he said when the air speed indicator was between 55-60 knots I was to gently pull the yoke “steering” towards me.  As I did this gently and smoothly we were airborne! And it was really very exciting as we rapidly climbed up into the atmosphere.

Then we leveled off and after a while we were travelling at about 125 mph. Mr. Pham told me to keep the point where the wind shield met the plane in line with the horizon before me. That way we know the plane is at a level (horizontal) i.e. the plane nose is not pointing up when it’s above horizon level, nor is it pointing towards the ground when the nose is at an angle below the horizon. During this time I was so excited to be so far above the ground, we were about 3000 ft up in the air, and I was very much focused on the instrument panel, like when I was first learning to drive a manual transmission car! My instructor told me not to look at the panel and that I should be paying attention to the outside and what’s going on around me. “Whilst flying you should be looking out for other planes, and birds. Ground control can only do so much”. Mr. Pham said. He then told me that now I was free to do some maneuvers i.e. to turn the plane, but make sure I did so gently. So I did. I pressed the left pedal and turned the yoke to the left, and sure enough, the plane sort of dipped to the left and began turning. Then I gently and a little nervously brought it back to “level” by gently pressing the right pedal and turning the yoke to the right. That was my first experience in managing the plane and it felt good! By this time my hands were quite sweaty too. I was told that it wasn’t necessary to hold the yoke so tightly, just a gentle grip was sufficient. But I think it was more nervousness than actually holding the yoke too tightly, although I could perhaps have eased off on my grip.

One thing I noticed was that I hadn’t a clue as to where I was! It just kind of looked all the same from up above and Mr. Pham said, “Oh you’ll get used to it when you start flying. This is our practice area; this is where we do all our maneuvers. If you do get lost though, always look for the buildings of downtown Minneapolis, that’s where our airport is located and just head in that direction. Also, the GPS will help you. That’s Interstate 94 over there.” Mr. Pham checked the time and we had 10 minutes left of the 30 minutes of the introductory flight.

He then showed me a couple of spectacular maneuvers. He took over the controls and all of a sudden we were heading up really fast and I said, “Oh wow, I can feel the G-force”, to which he replied, “Yes this is about 2G’s”. I could feel the power of this little plane. Then he changed direction and we were going down and the sudden change in direction gave me that butterfly feeling in my stomach. Mr. Pham laughed and said, “Don’t do that too much, people can get sick. Believe me you don’t want to clean up after them. In all my 3 years of instructing, I had one person who got sick”, he said. He returned the controls to me and said, “Let’s go back now, turn the plane to the left.” We had travelled out about 16 miles from the airport and as we approached the airport Mr. Pham once again took over the controls to land the plane. I had read that landing is one of the most difficult parts of learning to fly because you can not see the wheels and it takes practice to learn where they are so you can gently land. Once we landed and the plane was parked we disembarked and Mr. Pham asked if I had any questions. I asked if he was going to be my instructor and he said that he was leaving in the next couple of weeks to become an airline pilot. He said this was just a stepping stone for him and it may be for me also if I decide to make this into a career. Interestingly, Mr. Pham himself qualified from this same school 6 years ago, and then got a job as an instructor 3 years ago. It gave me confidence in the school after seeing how well Mr. Pham flew the plane and where he was now going to further his career. “Well if you have don’t have any more questions, I have another introductory flight”. We shook hands as I thanked him and I went into the school to pay my $99 to John.

John asked what I thought of the flight and if I was interested in learning to fly. I was indeed. He then proceeded to tell me that I needed to get a health certificate and asked if I had a birth certificate or a US passport. If I didn’t have either I would have to go through the FAA clearance which could take up to 6-8 weeks. I told him I would be back in the next couple of weeks or so with the information he requested. I left the school with immense joy as I had always dreamed of flying and now I was actually going to learn to do so!


4 responses to “My Adventure in the Skies

  1. I knew when we had coffee last Friday that you were enthusiastic about your first flight. Don’t you wish that there was someway to convey that emotion on the written page?

  2. Congratulations on “launching” your aviation future and new blog! You have been talking about this for a long time, and it’s great to see you following the dream. I hope it tickles your heart to no end.

    “To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. To fly is everything.”

    — Otto Lilienthal

    • Oh what a nice quote! Thank you. Yes, I’ve started my blog and my flying lesson and thus far they’ve been new experiences and most enjoyable. I hope I can meet and overcome the challenges of both ventures.

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