Having worked up an appetite for flying in FSX: Steam Edition, DTG’s Third Party Manager, Simon, could not resist taking his first tentative steps into the sky with a trial flying lesson. Here’s how he got on:
“We’ll fly around a bit while I show you some more things with the aircraft, then if everything’s going OK I’ll let you land”. So spoke my flying instructor as we drank cups of tea in the morning breeze, looking out at rows of parked aircraft. I remained as nonchalant as I could manage under the circumstances. Up to now, landing on a runway for me had involved simply fastening my seatbelt, sitting back and awaiting the familiar ‘thump’ through an airliner undercarriage, then heading for baggage reclaim. I’d never even sat in a cockpit before. Was I really going to land a plane right after breakfast?
It all began with FSX: Steam Edition, which provided my first glimpse into the wide and varied world of flying. I knew a couple of colleagues who had either qualified or were working towards their private pilot’s license (PPL) and I realised it was something I needed to try for myself. A quick phone call had me booked in for a trial flying lesson at Skytrek Flying School, based at Rochester Airport (EGTO) in South East England. Various packages are available, and I settled for a half-hour trial lesson in a four-seater.
Shortly after 9:00am on Friday, I signed the relevant forms and met James, my instructor, who talked me through the basics of aircraft control. It was made clear that this initial trial would involve me using only the basic flight controls, with all pre-flight checks, communications and more involved tasks being handled by him. The briefing then explained our plan for the next 30 minutes, including the exciting and rather daunting news that I would be landing the plane. There were a few other topics to cover, but the instructor said we would go through them ‘when we’re upstairs’. I was slightly tense but eager to get into the cockpit.I was then introduced to Charlie-Whisky, a Cessna 172 belonging to Skytrek, which had a good reputation among the instructors. Boarding was not a graceful process, what with the high cockpit floor, low roofline and small door. With seat and belt adjustments made, and the instructor got on with pre-flight checks while pointing out the controls and instruments I would get to grips with. For the purposes of my lesson, these would be the rudder and brake pedals, the yoke, throttle, mixture control, parking brake, altimeter, tachometer and air speed indicator. It was soon time to fire the engine and get ready to fly.
The engine noise in a Cessna 172 is immense, and I quickly understood why all communication in the cockpit is via the headset. After getting clearance for the runway, the parking brake was released and we were under way. As the craft drummed, bounced and jolted over the grass, I made my first attempt at aircraft control via the rudder pedals as I taxied Charlie-Whisky towards the runway. After an engine rpm check and a final call on the radio, we turned onto the runway and I was told how to get us off the ground: full throttle, keep it straight, and pull up the nose when we are at 55 knots. With the first of many leaps of faith I was to take that morning, I did exactly as the instructor said and we were aloft in seconds. As a complete beginner, the aircraft’s willing and rapid climb came as a real surprise. When given the word, I eased the yoke forward, levelling the aircraft, and we cruised eastward at 1,000 feet (the aforementioned ‘upstairs’) while James explained about climbing and diving.Again, I was struck by the immediate responses of the small aircraft to control inputs, to the extent that I felt a slightly queasy ‘humpback bridge’ sensation as we dived and climbed over the town of Sittingbourne. It was then time to get to grips with banking, and as a car driver I was interested to note that, unlike a road vehicle, the aircraft can be left in a perpetual banking turn with the control yoke set to straight ahead. I was also fascinated to learn that banking serves another purpose: it can be used to improve one’s view of the landscape below, for example to confirm one’s position or, in my case, to get a nice aerial photograph of Leeds Castle.
All too soon it was time to turn back towards home, and I noticed immediately that the air was choppier as I flew towards the west. Incidentally, just typing ‘as I flew’ still makes me grin with pride! Circling up for the runway introduced me to the very basics of VFR flying, with the instructor giving guidance along the lines of ‘turn right until we’re pointing towards the white tower block’.
As the grass airstrip approached directly ahead, the most nerve-wracking part of the flight drew nearer: I was about to try and land Charlie-Whisky. In fact, to paraphrase Yoda, there would be no ‘try’ – with the nose down and throttle returned back to idle by the instructor, I was going to land the aircraft and I was going to do it soon. Descending ever closer over the streets of Rochester at 50 knots was becoming rather tense, though I had scant time to dwell on my uncertainty as, at James’s calling, I lowered the nose further and further, instinctively pulling pack on the yoke to level up as the grass rushed up to meet us. With a heady mixture of relief, satisfaction and disbelief, I felt the undercarriage thumping along the strip as Charlie-Whisky rolled unhindered along the runway, gradually slowing and with the engine idling happily as James took control and taxied us back to our parking spot, congratulating me on what was ‘pretty much all your own landing’. Slightly overcome by the experience, my comments at this point were little more than ‘Wow!’ and ‘Amazing!’ followed by the observation that it must be impossible to reverse park a Cessna.
I found the whole experience very interesting and exciting, and all that I hoped it would be. I would recommend anybody with an interest in aircraft or flying to give it a try, as you will learn so much and most likely enjoy yourself a great deal. I left the flying school with a real sense of achievement, and with my first 35 minutes of flying time under my belt.
-Simon, Third Party Manager, Dovetail Games.
Main image: Simon with Charlie Whisky