Flying Lesson #2 – Straight and Level

The weather forecast for the day of the lesson wasn’t great – winds increasing throughout the afternoon, pretty much up to the point my lesson was due to start, and then decreasing again as rain came in. Still, the lesson wasn’t definitely off so I cycled the ten and a bit miles to Stapleford.

I was there early as usual and it seemed that my instructor was up in the air somewhere (it turned out to be a trial lesson – the tell-tale post-landing photo by the plane gave it away). I sat in the club room, which also doubles as a wasp sanctuary (or so it seems), drank tea and read through my PPL course book.

The flying itself started slightly late but I did have time to go through most of the plane checks whilst James (instructor) went off to fill out some reports or some such. The ones I could remember what they meant at least… The plane had only just landed anyway so it was just for practice. As I was checking the plane the wind was certainly gusting up, then some spots of rain fell… James returned and, after checking fuel levels, thought that although it was a bit windy we’d probably be okay higher up.

After a very skewed take-off we were in the air and, once at around 2,000 feet, went through the basic principles. Straight and level, if that’s all you need to concentrate on, doesn’t seem that challenging, to be honest. Keeping straight and level and fiddling with flaps/trim/power or working out where you’re going is another matter entirely.

Although we haven’t really covered turning yet I did go through a few course changes – again, this is something that feels fairly natural – and even started playing with the rudder to balance the plane. We also had a run-through of the effect of flaps, and the demonstration of what happens if you go from full flaps to none in a short space of time was memorable. The net effect is a loss of about 100 feet of altitude, the sound of the engine picking up speed, and all manner of plane-settling.

We didn’t manage the full hour flying in the end. The clouds were just getting a bit too thick and James decided on a fly-over of the airfield to check out the wind sock and then landing on a different runway. There was going to be a cross-wind no matter what, though, but this one seemed to give us a bit more into the head-wind.

I didn’t fly the approach this time – there was just too much going on, and I didn’t question it – and we had to look out for another Cessna trying to do the same thing. We knew they were on approach from the radio, and they knew we were lokoing to approach, but neither of us could see each other. That doesn’t feel good. As it looked clear we started our approach. A few seconds later the other pilot radioed that he could see us, and looking back I could see a landing light about half a mile back and a couple of hundred feet higher than we were.

The landing was certainly interesting. I could see James fighting with the controls to keep us reasonably straight, including the small dip just as we were coming to the hedgerow at the start of the runway, and then the massive veer to the right as some trees cut out of the cross-wind for a few feet, but the landing itself felt good enough given the conditions. I was glad it wasn’t me doing it, though.

We taxied off the runway fairly quickly once we’d lost some speed and then watched the other pilot coming in. He seemed very high and then, just after the hedgerow where we’d dipped, he was suddenly lifted 20 feet, and then dropped 30 more. He landed very far down but it was smooth and looked less battered by cross-winds than ours did, so maybe that part of the runway is a bit quieter if the wind’s from that direction. Something to look out for in the future anyway.

In the 50 minutes we were up we managed to cover what we had planned in the hour anyway and there’s just a bit of Exercise 6 to finish off for the next lesson, which is planned for Friday. Looking at the weather I’ll be surprised if it happens, but I think this is going to be a common theme of my flying for the next eight months.

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