Wheeling the superlative Eurostar out of it’s hangar (well, watching the CFI wheel it out, with electric motor assistance, to be more precise) on a crisp winter morning, heart pounding with anticipation of the upcoming lesson and excitement for the views from 3000′ of the rolling English countryside sprinkled with Siberian dandruff…does it get any better?
Learning to fly always presents one with the problem of information overload. This is the fourth time I’ve started a flying course, and the endless list of mnemonics to learn – different for each instructor, different for each flying school, different for each aircraft – is mind boggling.
Today is freezing, so the brain took a few minutes to warm up as well as the air cooled rotax engine. After some discussion about whether or not engineers and pilots agreed about what temperature the cylinder heads really needed to be before it was safe to take off, we got on with the first list – SHABTICS, as follows:
Awareness in front and behind
Ignition & Master switches on
Choke set as required
Shout (clear prop!) and
As she spat vigorously into life, we sat chatting about the next hour for a few minutes whilst the canopy fully misted up with the cold and the engine warmed up. I was less apprehensive than on the last lesson, and was very much looking forward to the promise of climbing and descending turns, and fully developed stalling. I did, however, have a subroutine running in the back of my mind that was trying to logically cement whether it was climbing or descending that required the normal Power-Attitude-Trim to be switched to Attitude-Power-Trim. It was becoming one of those simple things like whether “i” should come before “e” except after “c” that became very complicated. Maybe I am developing pilot dyslexia, I thought as we dived into the pre-flight checks. Time for another nonsensical word to be committed to memory: CHIFTAP
Controls – full and free movement + Choke off
(hang on a minute. That’s two things to remember for one letter! What’s this man doing to me?)
Hatches + Harness secure
Instruments + Ignition checks
Fuel sufficient + Fuel tank selected
Take off weight + Trimmed for take off
Awareness all round
Power run-up (if temps sufficient)
Despite knowing that I was just going to have to sit down, turn the phone off, turn the computer off, turn the kids off, turn the wife off, turn everything off, lock myself in a little room and repeat all these until I knew them verbatim, I didn’t let that depress me as the chipper CFI asked me to taxi for take off on 020.
This was my second time on this farmers field and I couldn’t help romanticise how much more I preferred this to the large concrete goliaths I had trained on in my youth. This was much more in tune with Biggles and St Exupery and all the stories that got me to fall in love with aviation as a boy.
As we turned at the end of the runway, my CFI gave me some tips on how where to hold the stick and how fast to apply the power whilst pointing out that the runway was rather like a rollercoaster. This was going to be an interesting experience.
Time for a WAFT. No, I had not farted in the cockpit. These were my new pre-take-off checks.
Wind strength and direction (farts again)
Flaps set as required
Trim set as required
Speed as required
(S? That one, like a mute gigolo, slipped in quietly).
Within seconds, we were airborne and heading towards the airspace we needed to complete the exercises.
I was already totally in love with this little Czech number. She was, like all the best women, beautifully proportioned, balanced, forgiving, eager, nimble, gentle and, most importantly on this particular day, warm.
But now to work.
My extremely temperate and friendly instructor gave me a list of instructions. “Climb to this 2200′, level off and continue the turn to this heading then level off into straight and level flight”.
Sounds dead easy when you read it quickly.
I fared less well on descending turns, completely forgetting to take a good look below me before we dived down, but I think I got the hang of it after a few goes.
Stalling, first without and then with flaps, got me all excited. I was apprehensive at first (you always are with an aircraft you’re not yet familiar with), but by the time we got to full stall at 45 knots with full flap I was itching for it to develop into a full spin as the left wing dropped so I could show off my spin recovery skills (which I was sure I still had) but, disappointingly, these aircraft were not cleared to spin in the UK so I had to be content with stick forward, full power, level wings and climb away.
I had a vague memory about HASELL checks from back in the day..Height, erm, Airframe, Security, Engine, Location, Lookout. This was always performed before any aerobatic manoeuvres such as spinning or, indeed, aerobatics. But I could not think for the life of me what Airframe actually meant…
But now I had a new list! Appropriately enough, these were the LIFE checks..
Instruments (temps and pressures)
Endurance or Elapsed time
If you’re reading this and are not familiar with anything I’ve just described – get yourself down to a flying club right away!
But beware, as this fabled quote attributed to Da Vinci (but not verified) points out…
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
To me, it seems insane that anyone would NOT want to fly. In 200,000 years of human history, we’ve only been able to do it in the past 107 years!
Anyway, as with all flying lessons, it was soon time to head back to the field which I completely could not see. Even when it was pointed out to me. Many times.
I hid my lack of knowledge about where the field actually was and hoped I’d stumble upon it as we headed generally “that way” in a controlled descent.
By the time I had been taken through the pre-arrival checks, or SHAFT to you and me, I had found the runway/rollercoaster/field and before I knew it was on final approach.
I had landed it on my first lesson, but this time I felt much more on top of what I was doing.
I just kept remembering the fact that aircraft land themselves. Just keep looking at the end of the field and hold off, hold off, hold off (this is starting to sound like one of those premature ejaculation exercises, I know) then…touch-down!