Citabria N1806G
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

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.

Wrap Up


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

Reader Comments
# No Offense said:

I get a scant 4 weeks of vacation per year. I thought that arrangement was good, but I can't touch yours... Do you ever work?

on September 7, 2005 08:59 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


I worked about 10 hours today. A couple hours in the morning and then another eight or so after my lesson.

You seem to imply that if I work on a given da, that's *all* I do that day.

I only logged 0.8 hours of flying and 0.2 hours of ground instruction today.

on September 7, 2005 09:34 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

BTW, could you please choose a single name to post under? Nobody else is amused by your aliases.

on September 7, 2005 09:36 PM
# O1skyman said:

You should talk about the parachute your instructor had you put on before you did the roll....... you did have one on?

on September 7, 2005 09:37 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Funny... I recall writing about parachutes recently:

Yeah, I own my own chute.

on September 7, 2005 09:40 PM
# mark pincus said:

congrats on joining the motor powered world. i think most people start there and then move to gliding. just please dont go flying a citabria in and out of tahoe. looks like a fun plane though.

on September 7, 2005 11:30 PM
# said:

How cool does that sound. I've only once had a powered lesson here in the UK, but the cost of learning is too great for me to take it up as a student!

on September 8, 2005 03:00 AM
# Nick Bailey said:

How cool does that sound. I've only once had a powered lesson here in the UK, but the cost of learning is too great for me to take it up as a student!

(previous post threw up errors with the 'your name' field)

on September 8, 2005 03:02 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

You're taking me back... got my license at Reid-Hillview. Will never forget those hot days when the mall provides a nice updraft on short final, tempting every pilot to pull power to get lower... but then you cross Tully Road and discover where that rising air is coming from. In other words, as you may have discovered on your first flight, if you get some extra lift over the mall, hang onto the altitude because nature will take it back a few seconds later. As a glider pilot, I'd imagine this will seem quite reasonable to you.


on September 8, 2005 06:36 AM
# rr said:

Citabria's a very fun airplane, especially with a chute on. Haven't flown one since the 80's, though :(

Why'd you decide to start with a taildragger?

on September 8, 2005 07:55 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I started with a taildragger because nearly every taildragger qualified pilot I know suggested it. And I think they're right. Flying taildraggers is more fun and makes you focus more on controlling the plane on the ground.

Plus, I get a stick instead of a steering wheel. :-)

on September 8, 2005 08:14 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

"Steering wheel???" It's a *yoke*!

on September 8, 2005 08:39 AM
# rr said:

Yeah, but who wants to control an airplane on the ground? Kinda like driving a Hummer because it's hard to park ;)

I kid. Like spartan? Try a 7AC. Who needs a starter...

on September 8, 2005 08:47 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Nick: nah, it's a steering wheel to me. :-)

on September 8, 2005 12:24 PM
# Tom Becker said:

So, how long before you purchase an airplane of your own? Or, will you do the group ownership thing?

on September 8, 2005 01:30 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


Hopefully not long. But I'll probably look for a small partnership. My main interest is having a plane I can fly to the mountains during the soaring season. So if I can rope in a few glider pilot friends, that'd be ideal. :-)

on September 8, 2005 01:42 PM
# Jim Howard said:

I learned in a tail dragger, and never regreted it. Between tailwheel powered airplanes and gliders you'll have great hands. The fact that the CFI let you land on the first lesson really says something postive about your flying.

And when you buy that Bonanza or Mooney, you won't ding the prop by landing on the nosewheel.

on September 8, 2005 06:50 PM
# Phil Windley said:

Very nice. I've never flown a tail dragger and would love to give it a go. Congratulations on getting started.

on September 8, 2005 08:33 PM
# Mark Maunder said:

Hi Jeremy,

That's awesome you're getting into powered planes. I recently restarted my pilots license again. I have 10 hours behind me so far - 7 in the UK and 3 out of John Wayne in OC. I've decided to read the whole Jeppeson student flight manual before I start flying though and reward myself with some intensive training once I'm done. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of my first 10 hours if I'd read all the material.

Interesting that you've chosen a tail dragger. It never occured to me to train in anything other than a tricycle (All my hours are in Cessna 152's). A recent article in an aviation mag (Flyer Magazine?) did a feature on bush pilots in alaska and they all fly tail draggers for the extra prop clearance it gives IIRC.

I used to fly radio controlled slope soarers as a kid and I'm interested in meteorology and like the idea of total reliance on mother nature. I thought I read once you have your PPL it's a few extra hours to get your glider license?

Good luck with your PPL!

Mark Maunder.

on September 9, 2005 03:40 AM
# Paul Chaney said:

I just got my PPL last year and enjoy the punk out of flying. I've only flown Cessna's so far, but a taildragger would be majorly cool. I've also given some thought to getting a rating in sailplanes. There is a club not too far from here. No mountains though. Just rolling hills and farmland. Heh.

on September 10, 2005 08:07 AM
# John Johnston said:

Oct 10/05
Hi! Interesting site. Brings back memories. I started in the 70's with RC Cox foamies and gradually moved up to real models ( 1/4 scale Clipped wing Cub). Always wanted to fly real plane. Took a few lessons on 152, fell in love with flying and realized how crushingly expensive it would be to learn to fly and then own a plane.
At Oshkosh I saw ultralites for the first time and fell in love with the Lazair. Here was a plane I could learn to fly within my budget and actually hope to own.
Found a local private field and several Lazair veterans. Bought and renovated a Lazair and learned to fly it. Talk about FUN!!! Three years ago added a two seat Lazair & built a hangar. Even more FUN!! Two weeks ago bought a classic ultra 2 seat taildragger called Bushmaster. WHAT A BLAST!! Twenty years ago I despaired of ever learning to fly or own a plane. Now I have 3 sweethearts!! Anyone can.
John London, Ontario

on October 10, 2005 02:15 PM
# Graham Nicholls said:

John, hi, and thanks.

Your comment was very encouraging as I'm looking at learning to fly and owning an aircraft, but am worried about the cost.
Graham (London(ish))

on July 29, 2006 04:32 AM
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