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Saturday, June 1, 2013

N18LW




Thursday May 30, 2013 is a day that I will never forget.  I spent that morning as the tower NCO at an M9 range we were responsible for conducting and the weather wasn't looking good at all.  Low ceiling overcast, light rain, and gusting winds.  Not an ideal forecast especially since its late spring in Central Texas.  However with that said, my weather channel app assured me it would clear up around 3pm so I kept my fingers crossed.

Morning Costume headed to the range


What was so important about that Thursday you ask?  That was the day I would pilot an airplane for the very first time.  My first flight lesson was scheduled for 4:30pm which is why the forecast was truthfully so important.  We finished up at the range around 2:45pm and the race to beat the traffic home began.  If you've ever been to the worlds largest military installation during peak traffic, going to PT, after PT, heading to work, lunch break and going home for the day, you can understand my pain.  Imagine the worst traffic you've ever been in, and that pretty much sums it up.  I'm talking Los Angeles, and Atlanta type rush hour traffic!  On a good day it usually takes me 45 minutes to travel the 6.4 miles to my home.  On this day however the commute was less drastic and I arrived home around 3:10pm.  In my rush to get home I hadn't even noticed the forecast from the weather channel app became true.  I didn't notice the blue sky and a few clouds until I was pumping gas on my way to the airport.

taken at the gas station
I arrived at the airport a little early and went to meet my instructor Matt.  We exchanged greetings and began a quick overview of what to expect for the day's lesson.  Once complete Matt handed me a checklist and we headed out to the ramp.

Cessna 172 Checklist


The aircraft was a Cessna 172, registered as N18LW, and the location was Skylark Field, just on the other side of town from KGRK.  I will be obtaining my ratings through a local college while simultaneously obtaining my BA in Aviation Science, but today I would be flying with Genesis Flight Academy.

Anyway after our discussion the process of going through the checklist began.  My instructor was great, he let me experience the process for myself while showing me exactly what to look for and what to check.  We clicked immediately, so I knew flying with him would be enjoyable and it certainly was.  After about 30 minutes or so, remember it was my first time, we were in our seats and ready to start up the engine.  Once the engine was started we did a quick brake check and began to taxi to runway 19, and this would be the most difficult part of the flight.  Learning to use my feet for steering purposes was harder than I thought it would be.  It didn't help that I was dressed casual and wore boots which made rudder feel a little more difficult, so I will definitely be wearing sneakers next time.  It may not have been pretty but we made it to the run-up area with no incidents and completed the run-up portion of the checklist.  Once we complete we tuned the UNICOM frequency and turned the aircraft around in a circle to visually check for traffic.  Matt announced our intentions for takeoff and we moved to the hold short line to wait for an incoming Mooney to land.  After what seemed like forever to me, the Mooney was clear and I taxied the aircraft into position and prepared for take off.

Cessna N18LW my first plane
Skylark Field

Matt instructed me to release the brakes and apply full power and we were off.  At 55knots I started gently pulling back on the yoke and the aircraft began to lift off towards the sky.  I was the happiest person in the world at that moment.  Feeling the wheels rise off the ground and the climb towards the sky was the best feeling of freedom I'd ever experienced in my life.  A quick gust of wind and a little turbulence quickly captured my attention and it was then that I realized two things.  One this isn't the coach section of a 757-200, my favorite commercial airliner, and two I was actually flying the airplane!  Once again Matt made another announcement of our departure intentions and then instructed me to make a turn towards the lake and to continue to climb while trying to maintain an airspeed of 85knots.  Not too long after we leveled off somewhere around 5,000 ft and I asked Matt if he could take the airplane to allow me to snap from photographs.  Honestly I'll admit that I was seriously the proverbial kid in a candy store on this day and nothing could take my joy.  Being at the controls and flying in the small airplane didn't make me sick, nor was I uncomfortable.  Nervous and a little anxious at first of course I am a human being, but I felt like I was right where I belonged.  We spent the remainder of the flight just getting me familiar with the airplane and how it handles.  I performed basic turns and pretty much just got a feel for it.

Best office view in the world


Myself at the controls

Turning Over the lake




Before I knew it it was time to land.  Pattern altitude at Skylark is 1600 feet which is 800 feet AGL so I made a left hand turn and began to descend the airplane according to Matt's instruction.  This part of the flight seemed to move quickly and it all really felt as if it was over way too soon.  After another announcement we made the right turn to join the downwind leg for runway 19, and to my surprise Matt offered the opportunity to try and land the plane to me.  I'd flown most of the flight and I wasn't going to say no.  When parallel to the numbers I brought the power back as instructed and applied flaps 10 for an airspeed of 75 knots.  Shortly before turning base I lowered the flaps further and slowed a tad bit more.   The base moved by fast, or it seemed that way at least, and I turned the airplane onto final.  Flaps full and an approach speed of around 60 knots.  I had a brief moment as we approached the runway where it seemed like I had been there before.  However this wasn't FSX this time, it was real life.   Two white lights and two red lights were shown on the VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator) and that is what I used to keep the airplane on the glide slope.  (Reading this you may get the impression that it sounds easy, but in reality it's much tougher but I enjoyed every minute of it.)  As we crossed the numbers throttle went to idle, vision shifted to the far end of the runway, I began to flare, there was a slight beep of stall horn, and then the tires contacting the runway.  After a successful taxi in and shutdown my first flight was over.  The smile on my face would last for a few hours, phone calls, and emails later.




I'd be re missed if I did not give a special thanks to both Brad and Eric, both of whom have excellent blogs featured here on this site, and are accomplished aviators in their own right, for all of the encouragement, advice and motivation over the past several weeks.  There are a lot of negative people out there in this business but they are definitely not one of them.  Both of you have been nothing but helpful in this process and I thank you both for taking the time out to speak to a young aspiring aviator like myself.
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