Thursday, April 05, 2007

Instrument Lesson...In An Airplane!

Today I had an experience bordering on monumental in terms of my flight training. I went with my instructor John on our first instrument flying lesson in an airplane, rather than the simulator. First off, I haven't been in a plane for almost three weeks, and there was a long break before that too so I was not feeling great about my piloting and communication skills. But once I got into the cockpit, once again, it all just came back. I didn't even hesitate on my radio calls -- mostly because I didn't want to, in front of an instructor that had never seen me fly before. I know I'm being evaluated, there's no avoiding that, and in the end it can only help me to be at my best so that the suggestions I get are not things that I already know I should have done.

We took a left Dumbarton departure out toward the coast, and as I was climbing up to altitude, John had me put on the dreaded "view limiting device," also known as the "hood." We then spent the next 1.5 hours doing various maneuvers, including the different patterns that we'd practiced in the simulator. Except for one thing, it was actually much easier in the airplane, but that one thing was rudder control. The turn coordinator was kind of out of whack; the ball was always off to the left no matter what.

It was interesting really experiencing disorientation and vertigo. At least five times through the flight, I would have sworn that the plane was doing one thing, and the instruments disagreed with me (but agreed with each other). Trusting the instruments is truly an effort. Clearly it's worth it. The other really shocking thing was having to land the airplane after taking the hood off at about 400' above the ground on final approach. I felt like I'd been dropped into the cockpit of an airplane on final from some totally unrelated context, like sleeping, or working or something. Just boom: Land this plane, NOW! It's surprising, especially since I knew it was coming; it's not like I couldn't hear the radio calls.

But, my landing was good, as was the rest of my flying. It was really fulfilling; John even complimented me afterwards, saying my flying was excellent, my control of the aircraft on the ground and in the air were excellent. On my landing he even gave me a "nice job" even though I leveled off too high, and my second level-off at the appropriate height was a bit slow -- still, I did land nice and soft, which is the important thing.

It was a great lesson -- exhausting, but a lot of fun, a real workout and the kind of thing I can tell will get at least somewhat easier with time and lots of practice.

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