This story was too good not to share. It’s a student’s impression of the first lesson. She’s graciously agreed to share it with us, if for nothing else than to remember the feelings we had when first experiencing flight. – Ed
I took my first flying lesson, ever. It took me ten years to get up enough nerve to call a flight instructor. I scheduled Tuesday morning at Edmond Guthrie Regional Airport but the clouds were too low so we cancelled. Same for Wednesday. I was relieved. Then we rescheduled for the next available opening–Thursday at 3 p.m. Around noon I came up with excuses to cancel. I felt nauseous. It was too hot. And of course, it was my mother’s birthday. I called my husband, Bill, and told him I might wait until next week. I hoped he’d say, “You’re right. It’s too hot.” But he said, “It’s your choice. Whatever you want to do.” Lot of help he was.
A pitch-hitter flight training course is for those of us who don’t want to be a pilot unless we have to. Since I fly with Bill several times a month and hopefully we’ll fly many more years, it seems like a wise investment. Just in case something ever happens to him, I want to be able to land the airplane.
Let’s try something new this week. A recent flight had me thinking about all the little tidbits and tricks that spring up during our various training and travel sorties. What better way to catalog those than a weekly tip here on the blog?
Tip of the week #1
Always check notams at your alternate. This seems obvious, but with easy access to computer weather and briefings, it’s easy to overlook the notams at both your destination and your alternate. VFR pilots typically don’t pick an alternate as IFR pilots do, but they should. Always keep a Plan B in your mind, and take the time to check the notams at your Plan B stop prior to launch. Runways close, navaids go down, and TFRs do pop up.
It happened to me again. Just a few weeks ago I discovered another little rent in the fabric, another hole in my private pilot training.
I flew to Atlantic City International (KACY), an airport in Class Charlie airspace, to take in a Saturday night concert on the boardwalk. I chose ACY because I’d been told that, for a towered airport, the tower and ground personnel there were nice and there was a lot of GA traffic mixing it up with Spirit Airlines flights and the local Air National Guard. (In spite of an instrument rating and more than 500 hours in my logbook, I still say “uhhhhh” on the radio. A lot. So I tend to stay away from towered airports in general.)
So far, so good. I had my taxiway diagram ready when I landed, found the airport’s one FBO without problems and without crossing any active runways. My son and I spent a great night in Atlantic City enjoying the Steven Tyler’s ear-piercing rendition of “Dream On” (it might be one of his last before he goes off to be an “American Idol” judge, we figured).
The next day, in near-100-degree heat on the ramp, I called ground and told them I was ready to go. “Do you have your clearance?” the ground controller asked.
“Ummmm…” (I told you I do this on the radio.) “I’m departing VFR,” I said.
“Well,” the controller said kindly, “we’re a Class C facility so you need a clearance. Contact Clearance Delivery on XXX.XX.” I apologized, copied the frequency, and thought, “Now what?”
There it was—another hole in my training. I had no memory of ever learning about this, and since I don’t fly instruments much and wasn’t current, I couldn’t just file and go. So I took a deep breath, called Clearance, and confessed. “I need a VFR departure clearance but I don’t know what you need.”
Fortunately, she was as gracious as the other controllers had been, and asked for N-number, type, destination, and altitude. She assigned me a squawk code and told me to fly runway heading at or below 1,100 feet until released by the tower. Pretty soon we were on our way back to Maryland, and I had learned (or relearned) something.
This happens from time to time—a gap in knowledge. Please don’t think I lay all of this at the feet of my primary instructor. It’s quite possible we talked about this in ground school, and I forgot. But it’s also quite possible that we never talked about this. Stuff happens. Little things slip through the cracks. There are a bazillion different rules and regulations that we’re required to absorb; some of them stick and others don’t (and that’s why we have a flight review every two years whether we need one or not).
If and when this happens to you, note it, fill the hole with the required information, and move on. Better still, dig deeper and see what other holes might have developed in the fabric of your knowledge. For me, this means brushing up on my communications requirements, and maybe–just maybe–I’ll get instrument current again. The IFR ticket is a handy thing to have for more reasons than one.—Jill W. Tallman