Your connection with the sky

What to Expect on Your First Flight

by Chris Findley, CFI,

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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!

11 Responses to “What to Expect on Your First Flight”

  1. Great article!

    My first flight was on a Cessna and it was a great flight as I got to know my instructor prior to the flight and thus he made sure that I was comfortable throughout. Eventually, I was so thrilled that I joined the flihjt training course as I came to believe the thrill associated with flying above the rest!

  2. Sounds similar to my daughters first flying trail lesson last week. She went up in a AT-3 and the instructor mentioned that he allowed her practice 30 degree turns and holding the plane level. The instructor said that he did more with her than most 14 year olds that go onto a trial flight and yes she has that bug, she would like to go ahead and do her PPL. Great informative website, will keep coming back to read.
    She started a blog, and will blog through the whole of her journey to get there.

  3. Mike Kennedy Says:
    January 26th, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Nice piece. I just earned my private certificate on Dec. 13 and reading this brought back memories of my first flight last December, coming back near dark. It was beautiful and I was hooked. Now I love taking people up for a ride and am on to instrument training and more to learn.

  4. Going for my first flight today at 9 am. It's 2 am and I barely can close my eyes off. Super
    Excited, Never thought it was gonna happen, but it did. It's an C-172. Looking forward to it, and of course great article. It somehow comforted me.

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  9. I certainly recall my first flight as a student pilot. Like many, I had always wanted to fly airplanes since I was about eight years of age and that desire grew as I did. I was 18, in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Sheppard AFB, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Although I did not have a college degree, at that time, I learned to fly through a base flying club. My instructor showed me the cockpit and all the instruments. I was in awe. We took off into a clear, smooth evening sky and flew for an hour. Returning from the practice area I almost cried. Today, I am a pastor and flight instructor, in Memphis, TN. Since 1990, I have taken students from zero flight time to their Private Pilot's License. Flying is in my DNA to stay. Safe and happy flying to all of you.

  10. Oh, my first flight was in a Cessna 150. Being a black pilot really shocked a lot of people when I would taxi up to the fixed based operator and step out of the cockpit to request fuel. I cannot help but laugh. Today, there are many black student pilots (males and females)and certificated flight instructors,and airline captains than there ever have been in the past. Diversity in aviation, as in many areas of employment, is a good thing.

  11. Just scheduled a flight lesson for my son's 17th birthday! He had never even flown, but has expressed interest for it. Can't wait for Friday's surprise. My father flew a cub and later had a Cessna 172. The first plane my son is going to fly is the act color and type my dad flew. This is bitter sweet for me. I hope he enjoys this, as I know he will.

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