After having put it off for too long, I had my first flying lesson today in a plane with an engine. I recently joined as a student member at Amelia Reid Aviation at the Reid-Hillview Airport just a few miles from my home.
I met my instructor Dave Gray (see instructors) this morning and we chatted for a few minutes about my flight experience so far, goals, and so on. Before long we headed out to the line to check out N1806G, the beautifully restored 115 horsepower Citabria I had booked for our lesson (see aircraft). We performed a quick pre-flight and walk around inspection before getting comfortable in the cockpit.
In The Cockpit
I was immediately struck by how good the visibility is in the Citabria. I expected to see far less over the nose in a tail dragger. The seat was comfortable and the stick had a surprising range of motion. The rudder pedals seemed easy to work, but the heel brakes were a bit awkward. They are just a bit farther from the pedals that I'd like for ease of operation.
The panel is spartan and that's the way I like it. The fewer instruments to distract from flying, the better. However, in the air I noticed the lack of a vertical speed indicator (VSI). That meant I had to make approximations of our climb/descent rate based on how much the altimeter was moving.
On The Roll
Once oriented with the cockpit, we checked the weather, ran down the checklist, and started up the engine. It wasn't as loud as I expected. I then got my first crack and driving the Citabria on the ground. By keeping the engine RPM around 1,000 I was able to steer with the rudder and not deal with tapping the brakes.
I took us down the taxiway and over to the run-up area where we could make a last check of everything, run up the engine, and get our takeoff clearance from the tower. Moments later I was pulling out on to runway 31 Right. Once there, I applied full power and began the takeoff roll.
The first few seconds were dominated by applying a bit of right rudder and raising the tail. As soon as I had the tail up, Dave told me to gently pull back on the stick. As I did, the plane lept into the air and started climbing. I was impressed at how quickly we were off the ground.
In The Air
We made a right turn and then another to head southbound on our downwind departure. After climbing for a bit, we were at 4,000 feet and I got to practice a few things. Turns, steep turns, rudder work, turning stalls, power off stalls, and full power stalls.
I enjoyed the way the plane handled. It was fairly easily to guess how it was going to react to various control inputs. And, again, the visibility was great. The thing that surprised me most is how little speed I picked up in stall recovery. The gliders I'm used to flying will accelerate in a hurry when the nose goes down.
Dave said I was doing very well and before long we were heading back toward the airport. Along the way he talked a bit about spins and I told him that I had spin training in gliders. He then said something that made my day:
Do you want to see a barrel roll?
I think I answered "of course!" but I'm not entirely sure of that. So he took the controls, dove to 130 knots, and demonstrated the roll. It felt less dramatic than I expected.
We got our clearance for a straight in landing on runway 32 Right and headed in. A few miles out I pulled the power back to idle and we descended nicely. Dave asked for a slip to get us on to a better approach and I found that the Citabria slips quite nicely.
The flare and touchdown weren't perfect. I bounced a bit but they weren't hard bounces. :-)
From there we taxied back to the tie-down area and put the ship away.
I had a blast flying the Citabria. It's clear that I'll need to work on a number of new flying skills, I was impressed with how easily it flew and how little time Dave spent on the controls. Other than demonstrating a few things in the air and helping with a bit of the rollout, it was all me. And that felt damned good.
I can't wait to get back up in the air this weekend!
Posted by jzawodn at September 07, 2005 08:00 PM