Your connection with the sky

June 20th, 2012: New plane, new instructor. Flying the Cessna 172 with JP.

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Take off, landing, medium and steep bank turns, slow flight and stall practice in the Cessna 172 with JP.

Having successfully mastered the Citabria…

Ok, so maybe that's going a little too far, but having successfully received my tail wheel endorsement from my instructor and soloed in the Citabria on Monday, which suddenly, albeit temporarily, catapulted my ego to Flying Ace, it was time to get some experience in a new plane. Today was my first flight with my new instructor JP in the Cessna 172. Now don't get me wrong, I love the Citabria, it's an amazing airplane as far as I can tell, quick and responsive, and flying stick and rudder just makes you feel like, well, like you're really flying. I also have earned a great respect for pilots who fly, and especially land, tail wheel airplanes of any kind.

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Citabria Instrument Panel
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Cessna Instrument Panel

After sitting down for a pre flight introduction with my new instructor JP, and getting some prep on the Cessna it was time to run through the checklist for the first time, which is similar, but quite a bit more involved than the Citabria. Having cut my teeth, so to speak, in the Citabria, which has a very simply instrument arrangement on the dash, climbing into the Cessna was a little intimidating, but exciting at the same time. At first glance the instrument panel on the Cessna appears a lot more complicated, but once you start to nose around you see that all of the basic instruments are similar, if not the same.

The instruments are in a slightly different arrangement, but most things are immediately familiar, the altimeter, climb indicator, RPM gauge, fuel gauges, ammeter, oil pressure and temperature, air speed indicator, attitude indicator and compass, the only real difference being a few new instruments to learn about and the addition of the dual radios and GPS navigation system which aren't part of the Citabria's configuration. While I had grown very accustomed and comfortable to the instrument panel in the Citabria, I have to admit, I was a little concerned about my ability to adjust to the Cessna but the fact is, it only took 10 minutes of flying to get comfortable with the arrangement of the panel in the Cessna. Everything is logically arranged, and while the instrument panel takes up considerably more of your view than the Citabria, the instruments are all easily viewable which makes it easier to glance at them momentarily, allowing you to keep your focus on what's going on outside the plane as well.

JP didn't waste any time getting me into the air. This first flight was more to get me adjusted to the Cessna than to focus on maneuvers but from the get go he had me at the controls. I taxied the plane out and ran through the checklist for the run up and once completed, was instructed to take her on out to the runway. So the first thing, coming from the Citabria, which is a tail wheel air craft, was that being a tricycle gear plane with a steerable nose wheel, maneuvering  the Cessna on the ground was completely different. There were several things I had to adjust to quite quickly, number one, the Cessna has a yoke, basically a steering wheel compared to the Citbria's "stick", which meant now, instead of making what I would refer to as a "box" of movements with the stick on the floor between my legs and in front of me, I needed to adjust to having a "steering wheel" directly in front of me. The stick in the citabria was different enough that I could easily disassociate it from the control of a traditional automotive steering wheel and while left is still left and right is still right, I found that immediately my tendency was to treat it like the steering wheel in a car, however, beyond the fact that it's on the dash in front of you, there are few similarities.

The rudders and the brakes in the Cessna also seem much more sensitive to me and take a much lighter touch than required in the Citabria so of course I was a little heavy handed and heavy "footed" taxing out to the runway. With a little practice and a lot of questions, and believe me, I ask a lot of them, "where should my feet be", "what should this feel like", "should my toes be on the brakes", "should my heels be on the floor", "is it better to manipulate the pedals with the palm of your feet or the ball of your feet", "do you steer with the rudder or the yoke"?, I started to get a feel for maneuvering the plane. It wasn't particularly graceful this first trip down the taxiway, but I did manage to get us to the runway eventually. As I mentioned, JP wasted no time putting me in control, running through the takeoff check list and clear for takeoff I made my radio call and headed out on to the runway. Flaps down, full throttle, adjust for crosswind, and whoosh, within seconds we were in the air. The Cessna is so smooth going down the runway that I wasn't quite sure we were off the ground, but indeed we were, with a quick adjustment to the flaps at 200 feet we were sailing along.

The Cessna has a more powerful engine, 350 horsepower compared to the 150 hp in the Citabria, but being an all metal airplane, compared to the Citabria's fabric skin, it's also quite a bit heavier. The first thing I noticed was how smooth it cut through the air, climbing effortlessly it took a conscious effort to keep the speed down within best climb limits. Climbing up to 2500 feet we headed straight west out through the Petaluma Gap, over Petaluma and out towards the Pacific Ocean. Since this was our first flight together, JP and I talked along the way about what experience I have had to date and what I might want to do during this first flight. My main interest was to get a feel for the plane by practicing a few basic maneuvers, so after a few clearing turns JP demonstrated a low bank and then medium bank turn and then had me repeat the process 360 degrees in each direction, first to the left and then when leveling off back on course, to the right. The plane felt very stable and it was easy to maintain consistent altitude, speed and coordination, this of course made me feel quite good and gave me confidence that I could handle other manuevers so on we went, practicing some slow flight at idle speed, slow turns, and a low power stall, each reassuring me that I was able to handle this new aircraft better than I had anticipated.

Despite it's more complex appearance, flying the Cessna was comfortable and easier than I imagined it would be. The flight back to Skypark was smooth and JP walked me walked me through the process for my downwind approach, which feels quite a bit different than the Citabria as it turns out. I think it's probably the plane's weight, and I'm sure it has something to do with flying with the flaps extended, but it feels heavier and somehow slower on the approach, even though the speed is the same, and the turns to base and final don't seem quite as crisp. Of course, it could have just all been me and the newness of it all, after all I was fully focused on my first landing in the Cessna, which by the way, while not beautiful, did end with the wheels on the ground and the plane moving forward. The run out was smooth and JP congratulated on my first landing in the Cessna adding, "with the exception of a couple of small adjustments on final, that was all you".

I will definitely need some practice with landings, as having done many in the Citabria, the angle of approach and timing of the flare is much different but the plane rolls out very nicely once on the ground.

Another great day and really looking forward to tomorrow. when the lesson calls for more high speed taxi practice and as many takeoffs, patterns and landings as we can fit in.

B

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