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Week #1: I Feel the Need, the Need for Cessna 172 Speed

Inflight Student Pilot Blog

Student Pilot: 2.4 Hours

 

Before my first lesson, I was paired with a CFI named Matt to begin my training after filling out a brief questionnaire from Inflight, which helped to match me with someone who has a similar personality type, similar interests, and a teaching style that will best match my learning style. I showed up to my first lesson with an idea of what to expect since I also did my Discovery Flight [1] with Inflight over a year ago when I originally planned to get started with my training. (This was in March 2020 and right before a little event you *might* have heard of known as Coronavirus put everything on hold). Fast forward to June 2021 and I met up with Matt for my first lesson and am geared up to start flying, when low and behold the weather decides not to cooperate and the flying part of my lesson gets canceled. Hopefully, the cancellation is a less ominous sign for my journey to be a pilot than the thunderstorm building around Flying Cloud Airport that day. Matt and I spend the lesson filling out the necessary paperwork (there is a lot of paperwork to become a pilot!) and trying to get as much out of the way as we can so the next lesson we can get right to flying. We also run through a pre-flight walkaround on the airplane to start learning that process, and it is relatively quick and painless if you know what you are looking for. All you have to do is follow the checklist, which quickly becomes a common theme I notice as I start my training. There is a checklist for everything!

 

By the second lesson, the weather is much more cooperative and today is the day to get up in the air for the first time and see how it goes. I’ve chosen a Cessna 172 for my training, the standard training airplane of most flight schools, although Cessna 152’s and Cirrus SR20/SR22’s are also options at Inflight depending on your budget and preferences. Matt and I complete the pre-flight checklists (weather briefing, pre-flight plane checks, etc), and into the left seat I go, ready to fly the plane for the first time as a student pilot. It feels like I am learning 1,000 things at once as Matt teaches me about the pre-flight process, avionics, radios, checklists, and of course how to taxi and fly the plane. While this was a slightly overwhelming feeling initially, Matt assures me that it is 100% expected to feel slightly overwhelmed at the beginning of training. However, in every lesson, some aspect of the process gets a little easier and you slowly master the art and science of being a pilot step by step. The goal is to be a sponge and just soak up what you can and not get discouraged when you can’t soak up every piece of information being thrown at you, because like a sponge eventually you reach a saturation point in most lessons where the brain just can’t really process new information.

 

Matt makes the radio call to FCM Ground and we get clearance to start our taxi to the runway. A couple of minutes later we have received FCM Tower clearance and we are lined up on runway 28R and ready to take off. Matt handles the takeoff, and as the wheels lift off the runway I’m immediately reminded how great of a feeling it is to leave the ground at the controls of an airplane. The *mighty* Cessna 172, while stable and well built, isn’t exactly a speed demon (it cruises at about 100kts) but that doesn’t matter. The feeling is still exhilarating even if it won’t be fulfilling my ‘Maverick-esque’ need for speed. Shortly after wheels up he lets me take the yoke and start flying the plane. I remember a few basics from the discovery flight I did over a year ago, but we review how to hold the plane straight and level, shallow bank turns, and basic climbs and descents. None of these very basic maneuvers are particularly difficult to pull off on their own, but become much more nuanced when holding yourself to the standard of maintaining the desired altitude and heading with as little deviation as possible. All of these require a delicate balance of pitch, roll, power, and rudder to keep the airplane behaving how you want it to. I’m doing OK, but to put it nicely I see a lot of room for improvement too! Matt is quick to pass on one of his top pieces of advice he received back when he did his initial pilot training, and that is “fly the airplane, don’t let the airplane fly you”. His point being that as the pilot it is your job to control the airplane and where it is going. This means if the airplane is drifting off the desired heading you need to intervene, or if in an unwanted climb or descent, you need to stop it. This all sounds very obvious, but when you are new to flying the tendency is to be too “gentle” or “careful” with the airplane. Matt points out to me that of the dozens of students he has worked with, only one time has he ever told a student they are overhandling the airplane, and the vast majority of new students are too timid when it comes to making necessary corrections to pitch, bank, or power to maintain desired flight. This is something I will try to keep in mind going forward as I build towards becoming a smooth and capable pilot.

 

We make a quick jaunt over to my neighborhood to get an aerial view of my house, which is fun to see from a bird’s eye perspective. Up until this point I had been so busy trying to learn flight controls and monitor instruments that I had to make a conscious effort to keep my eyes outside and just enjoy the flying and the views. The learning process is fun, but I also want to make sure to enjoy the views and the flying while I’m up there. I can imagine many student pilots start to lose interest in the training if it becomes all work for them with no appreciation for taking a few minutes to just enjoy the ride. After a little over an hour in the air, we head back to FCM for the landing and debrief. Again, Matt handles the pattern and landing work while I observe the process so I can start to learn the steps. There is a slight crosswind and we had some bumps on our final leg into the runway, but Matt settles us on the runway like the old pro he is. I guess he really does know what he is doing! My first lesson is done and I’ve logged 1.4 hours in my logbook (2.4 when counting my discovery flight). It is a small step, but an exciting one in the journey to becoming a private pilot.

 

Student Pilot Tip of the Week: What to bring to your first lesson

Every flight school will have a different ask of students for what to bring to their first lesson, but these are a few items I brought and would recommend:

 

  • Flight bag – Something to hold all of your gear. It can be a spare backpack, a dedicated flight bag, or anything that can comfortably hold your gear without being too bulky.
  • Aviation Headset – Get a quality headset if you are 100% committed to getting your PPL. If on the fence, you can likely rent or borrow a headset temporarily from your flight school until you are ready to commit to buying one. Spare batteries are also an excellent idea if your headset has active noise canceling.
  • Medical certificate – I did my 3rd class medical before training, which was highly recommended in case there are any issues in getting a medical. You technically are NOT required to have a medical to fly dual with an instructor, but it will save you a lot of headaches and potentially sunk costs down the road if you get it before starting lessons. Nobody wants to pay for 20 hours of flight instruction and then find out they can’t get medical.
  • Airman Certificate – We filed for this at my first lesson through the IACRA website, so I technically didn’t bring this with me to lesson #1. Some schools may ask you to get this before you start lessons.
  • Sunglasses – Easily overlooked, but a lifesaver on a sunny day. Some pilots have recommended to me to wear non-polarized sunglasses if your cockpit has a lot of “glass” in it (aka digital instruments or avionics) or if you fly with an iPad as polarized sunglasses can make reading them more challenging.
  • Water – Small planes typically don’t have A/C, so a bottle of water is important to keep you hydrated and sharp, especially on a hot day.
  • Logbook – Buy a logbook before or pick one up at your first lesson from your flight school. You will start logging hours at your first lesson. Your flight school may have a specific logbook they recommend, so check with them if you need guidance.
  • Wallet/ID – Unfortunately, your flight school is going to make you pay for your lessons so you’ll need a form of payment (unless you’ve already deposited to an account at your flight school). Your instructor will also likely need to see two forms of government ID to get you in the IACRA system, so bring your driver’s license and either birth certificate or non-expired passport.

 

I hope you enjoyed the first iteration of the Inflight Student Pilot Blog. Until next week, live life in the left seat!

 

Drew

 

 

Disclaimer: This is a student pilot blog. While I strive for accuracy when communicating concepts or elements from my training, this blog should never be relied on as being 100% accurate. My experience as a student pilot may also differ from what others experience. Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect opinions of Inflight Pilot Training.

 

[1] Side Note: I highly recommend a Discovery Flight if interested in pursuing a pilot’s license. It is a couple hundred dollars, but Inflight treats it like your first lesson. You get to fly the plane from the left seat, get a taste of what training will look like, and make sure flying in a small plane is really for you before jumping head first into training. You even get to log the hour in your logbook, and every hour counts!