Skyward

Gord completes hit pre-flight walk-around of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, under clear and wind-free skies.

Yesterday was flight day! I arrived at Carp Airport (CYRP) only a few minutes early to find Gord was already there and waiting, but our plane was not there! Someone else had it on a flight, but it was back ten or fifteen minutes later. Gord told me he’d planned to have his pre-flight completed before I arrived, but I’m glad that didn’t happen because it gave me a chance to have a look at the aircraft too. The last time I was in a light plane was when our grade eleven geography class took an aerial tour so we could see larger scale geographic features. Of course, it was more a fun ride than anything. Now, I was more interested in watching the instruments and listening to the radio chatter.

Pre-flight check of the control surfaces. Flaps and elevators down.

We all climbed aboard and the instructor (who was more than ten years younger than me) went over how this aircraft is different than the smaller planes Gord is used to, even down to how the 172 sits with its nose higher because of its more rearward centre of gravity with a back-seat passenger. That was me, of course.

It’s no wonder the headphones pilots wear are so large and bulky. Those light planes are really noisy and the headphones seal out a lot of the noise. We taxied and took off. I felt immediately anxious because light planes don’t have nearly the wing area of larger passenger jets. There’s a lot of buffeting and despite the perfect conditions and lack of wind, the plane was tossed a bit while still near the ground. After climbing to 2000 feet, we banked to the left, and since I was sitting in the left seat, looking down out of the window treated me to an unimpeded view straight down. Yea, that gave me further anxiety. The funny thing was however, once we came out of the turn, I felt no more anxiety.

Final approach on runway ten. Picture perfect except for the bug-spatter on the canopy.

Differences in aircraft performance are easy to adapt to in the air because the pilot has plenty of time. When taking off and landing however, things are a different matter entirely. Since this lesson was to have Gord get used to a larger plane, the only flying we did was to circle the field and land again. We’d take off, circle, land, then take off again without even slowing down. This is called a “touch and go,” which I’m pleased to say I knew from my flight simulator experience. It was very interesting to see an approach and landing in real life and in many ways I can imagine it’s easier in a real plane than in a computer simulation because you have depth perfection to judge distances, and because you’re getting feedback from the aircraft in the controls so you can tell more of what’s going on. Of course I don’t mean to say flying is easy … not by a long shot, despite Gord making it look so easy.

The Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills bracket an area northwest of Aylmer, Québec.

After the instructor was satisfied with Gord’s proficiency, he suggested we land and call it a day. Gord asked if we could just drop him off and go for a short flight of our own. He readily agreed so we flew up the Ottawa river around Dunrobin and Constance Bay. Gord and I know some people living out that way so we had a look at their houses, from above.

The differences I noticed between being a passenger in a light plane and flying one in a computer simulation were of course many. The blinding power of the sun is a big one. Identifying aircraft at a distance is very easy when the simulator labels them with bright red text! In the real world, radio chatter is sometimes incomprehensible with static and distortion, leaving you to wonder if what was said was important or not. Of course the sensory experience of being tossed around and feeling the aircraft react to the controls is a wonderful experience even as a passenger.

Yea, given the time and the money, I’d love to learn to fly.

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