First (real) Flying Lesson

It may not be my first actual flying lesson, but since my first taster session was over ten years ago and my last lesson was also just a trial, this morning is the first one to count as a real lesson.

If there’s one thing I wasn’t prepared for it was how much pre-flight briefing there was, especially since this was a first lesson. From start to finish the entire “one hour lesson” lasted three hours, with only the last hour being in the air. The start was running through the theory of the controls and all the things I’d need to buy: logbook, PPL course books etc etc (and £tc £tc £tc).

Next was the pre-flight checklist. Obviously my first time is going to be ridiculously slow, since I wouldn’t know what half the things on the list were. As someone who is mechanically inept it’s reassuring to have a process to go through to check a plane is air-worthy, rather than relying on my own judgement. It was extremely worthwhile time not only to start to get the process of the check in place, but also to see parts of the plane close-up and have a better idea of how what I’m doing in the cockpit affects what’s outside.

Then, we refuelled. Or we did once the plane started, and after I’d done some more checks. G-BNUTS (which is easier to remember than most of the other plane codes I saw) didn’t want to start, so the instructor did plenty of pulling and pushing of throttle and fuel mix and eventually it got going.

Refuelling involved a taxi close to the pumps up behind the plane that was refuelling, engines, off, and then pulling the plane into position to refuel.

Finally, we pushed away from the pumps, pointed ourselves away from anything that might get upset by the props starting, and started up again. This time it fired up first time and the instructor taxied us down to the runway and into the air.

And then – drama! Or minor drama as my door sprung open. “Sprung” is slightly melodramatic as the air over the plane meant it only opened a crack. It had been difficult to close and doesn’t seem to be in quite as good shape as the rest of the plane – it almost looks like it’s been hit from the side, so it doesn’t really sit flat even when closed. Once we were higher the instructor slowed the plane so I could push it open and then slam it shut again. The drama was indeed minimal, as the harness is always in place, but it’s a reminder not to trust the catches!

The perfect-day-from-the-ground was still a good-day-from-the-air, but there were a lot of thermals and a bit of a crosswind. There were a couple of substantial bumps which seemed to be generated from no discernable feature whatsoever.

The lesson was mostly basic: here’s what roll does/look how it rolls, but still getting a feeling for the controls is good. Plus I’ve never really used a rudder before so trying to work that out to balance the plane towards the end was a challenge. We also did some trimming and since it didn’t prove too difficult I’m now in charge of keeping the plane in trim when I have controls.

There was some comparisons of handling at different speeds, and also at different RPM settings to try to get a feel for how control responsiveness changes.

Finally we dropped into the circuit (“we” meaning “not me”) and I got to fly some of the approach. It felt like we were heading straight towards the hedgerow at the front of the airfield but I wasn’t in charge of power and all went well.  As with the trial lesson last week, I was surprised at how much we seemed to be pointing down on the approach and then pulling the nose up at the last minute. Once I come to landing I can see myself wanting to keep the nose too high.

The debrief was minimal and I booked in for two more lessons, and then it was off to the aviation shop to spend (yet more) money on a logbook, fuel tester, fuel gauge (stick thing), a copy of the checklist book for myself, and finally a couple of course books. It all adds up, and the pile of reading is stacking up already.

It felt like good progress, though, and apparently we’d covered most of what is supposed to be lessons one and two. Onto flaps next time, and hopefully the weather will stay as good.

A New Venture: Wedu Games

My new venture, Wedu Games, is up and running. Or at least the site is as there are no games finished yet. There are a few things in development, though, including an interactive storytelling table app (that isn’t a game at all) and a stud/hold-em poker hybrid to launch on mobile and Facebook together. Everything’s being built in HTML and JavaScript with possibly a bit of Node.js for simple back-end.

In the meantime there are a few blog posts to read. Now, back to making the games again…

Trail Flying Lesson

After ten years since I last had a short taster session flying a Cessna at Wycome Airfield, I finally have the time and (just about) the money to try for a private pilot’s license from start to finish.

Stapleford Flight Centre is close to me, being about ten miles away, so I booked myself in for a trial lesson. Resisting the urge just to start the course right away, I thought a one-off trial was a sensible way to sanity-check that I still really did enjoy flying a plane. I needn’t have doubted it.

Here’s the plane I was about to wiggle the stick around in:

Cessna 152, pre-flight

Despite the terrible photo, it was a really good day with a touch of high cloud and slight haziness, fairly light winds, but still about as good as you can realistically hope for in the UK. As the flight had been postponed by a couple of days due to really terrible weather, anything good enough to get in the air would do me.

And just to kind-of-prove I was actually in the plane at some point:

Karl Bunyan, flying a goddamn plane

The instructure, a guy named Ollie, seemed to perk up a bit when I told him that, no, this wasn’t a present from a relative but I’d paid for myself to check that I really wanted to start the PPL properly. We took the decision that the hour-long flight would be a bit of fun, and maybe a bit of instruction, but not identical to a first lesson.

As such we did a few fun things – some sharp turns and just a bit of “getting the feel of things” – plus a “trim the plane” challenge, which was in the “okay for a first attempt” category. (The trimming was okay, but we’d gained about 350ft in altitude by the time I’d done it.) It felt surprisingly liberating to fly right over Southend Airport, which is obviously safer than flying near Southend Airport as directly above is the one place you know there are no jets buzzing around.

I was allowed to fly the approach but not the landing. I still can’t really believe that in my first lesson at Wycombe I really did get to land ten years ago; maybe a combination of lighter winds and a slightly deranged instructor.

Needless to say, I’ve booked the rest of the course. At just under seven grand it’s maybe not the most sensible purchase I’ve ever made, but what the hell. Whether I’ll make it as far as blogging every lesson as much as the excellent Forty Five Hours blog is doubtful, but I’m looking forward to the true start of my flying adventure in a week’s time.

Karl Bunyan, flying a goddamn plane