by Chris Findley, CFI, www.myFlightCoach.com
You're going to take your first flight in a light airplane! First things first, be sure to bring a camera! This is an exciting day for you and for those of us who teach and encourage people to learn to fly. This might well be a much bigger day than you imagine. These first flights are where many of us catch the "flying bug" and begin a journey that literally lasts a lifetime.
But what can you expect? While experiences vary from flight school to flight school, here's are some thoughts on what a great first flight should be.
You should arrive just a few minutes early to meet your instructor and sort of take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the airport. Depending on where you are, there could be a bit of air traffic and there might well be some other students around. You might meet a couple while you wait.
Your instructor will have the airplane dispatched (have the paperwork approved for flight) and will probably talk with you a few minutes before you go to the plane. He or she will probably ask about you-- when did you get interested in flying? Have you ever been up in a light plane before? What have you heard about it? Is there anything that makes you particularly nervous? Is there anything in particular that you'd like to see? Hopefully your instructor will take a little time to get to know you and they'll probably tell you a little about themselves.
Once this is done, you'll head out to the airplane. If you're used to airliners, the common trainer may seem small. It's about the size of a compact car, but with wings. The first thing you and your instructor will do is a "preflight". Pilots are careful. We are diligent about checking the airplane's functioning before we even start the engine. So we preflight the plane before each and every flight. This is basically a methodical walk around the aircraft, examining its various components, instrument sensors, controls, and fluid levels. This will take about :10-:15 minutes depending on how much discussion is happening as you go. Your instructor may have you help with the preflight. I often have 1st time pilots read off the checklist as I demonstrate how to check each component.
After the preflight, you're almost ready to fly! You'll get in, start the engine and begin your taxi to the runway in use. You'll probably hear a some chatter on your headset. That chatter may sound like a foreign language at first, but after a few lessons you'll be amazed at how much you begin to understand. In fact, in only a few lessons, you'll probably be talking on the radio!
You will do one final check of the plane, called the runup. The engine is advanced to a moderate RPM and the basic engine functioning is checked. Your controls, instruments, and radios are also verified as ready-to-go and then you're off!
Your instructor will taxi the plane onto the runway, line it up with the centerline, advance the throttle to full power and you'll be on your way! At about 55knots (about 63 MPH) the nose of the plane will be gently pointed skyward and you'll begin flying! You'll notice that the ground begins dropping away. You may feel the wind pushing the plane or you may notice some bumps that are like hitting small potholes. That's just a little turbulence, quite normal to experience in light planes, especially in the summer. If you want to minimize this, then schedule your first flight either early in the morning or early in the evening before dark. The air is usually smoother at those times.
Upon reaching a safe altitude, your instructor will turn you out of the airport area and will very likely let you try your hand at flying. Don't be shy! Feel how much pressure it takes to turn the plane or to pitch it up or down. Check out what the rudder does. Get a feel for the plane. Remember, your instructor's job is to help YOU learn to fly! You might fly over your city or even over your house. Let the instructor know what you'd like to see.
After about :20mins or so (depending on the duration of your first flight) you'll begin to head back to the airport. Keep your eyes open and see if you can spot it. Your instructor will get the airplane to the traffic area (called the traffic pattern) and begin the approach to landing. For many people this is the most exciting part of the flight. Even long-time pilots love the challenge of making a great landing -which is both an art and a science. Hopefully your instructor will make a nice landing. You'll feel a light bump, hear the tires squeak and you'll feel the airplane slowing. After turning off the runway, you'll probably open your window for some needed fresh air (especially if its summer time). It's a great feeling to look up into the sky and realize that you were just there!
After taxiing back to parking and securing the plane, the instructor will find out if you're interested in lessons so you can earn your own Pilot's License. Go ahead and jump in! Schedule that 1st lesson!
There's nothing like your first flight. It may well be one of the most life-changing half-hours you ever have!