Monday, September 6, 2010

First Steps of Becoming a Pilot

The Cessna 172 and me after the lesson
Many kids want to be pilots at some point. I can't say for sure I was one of them, as honestly I don't remember much of my childhood, but it's one of those things that touches a child's imagination like magic does - being able to fly in the sky like the birds - be it in a tangible form like being an actual pilot or as a metaphore for being free and achieving great things.

The recent chapter of my thoughts about piloting started with my interest in space, though it took almost six months and getting laid off to make the first step. Back in March, in preparation for the NASTAR suborbital scientist training, I got my FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Class 3 medical exam, which just happens to be what's required for private pilot flying lessons. From that moment the world of flying was getting shoved in my face again and again through pilot gear catalogs and AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association) membership offers. The seed was sown, and being a pilot started taking hold of the back of my mind.

Last week, after picking up Liam from preschool, I took him with me to Rocky Mountain Airport, a small airport about ten minutes from my home. At the Western Air Flight Academy, Nevin (a flight instructor) gave me a tour of the facility. He also described the course components and price. Yup, getting a private pilot license is not the cheapest of activities one can pursue, around $11,000 after all said and done.

Thursday, September second was supposed to be my first lesson, but the weather wasn't cooperative. Going up for the first time that day would have been like getting a first drivers lesson on the ice. My lesson ended up being on Friday. After a long inspection of the plane, a C-172 Cessna Skyhawk (a 160HP four-seater), we were just about to close the windows and take off when a wasp decided to drop in... For the next few minutes we opened doors and windows until it decided to go out and get blown away by the wind coming from the propeller.

The plane instrument panel
Finally, we were off on a thirty minute flight, where I got to perform basic maneuvers such as turns, climbs and descents. The moment I had control of the plane it hit me how relevant this was to operating in micro-gravity, be it on a parabolic flight or beyond - the three-dimensional orientation and constant check of position not tethered to anything like a road was a totally new sensation for me. Also, unlike flying in an airliner as a passenger, piloting that tiny car with wings (my Toyota Prius weighs more) felt much closer to being one with the plane - it responded to every movement and gave me the peripheral view with little obstruction. Even taking off gave me that feeling as the plane accelerated and got airborne without the distinct acceleration and nose-raise phases on a big passenger plane.

Being the gear-head that I am, I brought my Garmin GPS watch with me. Recording my flights will be a useful tool to analyze my performance in addition to being cool in a geeky kind of way...

Nevin landed the plane while I took a few pictures and the lesson was over in what seemed like a few short moments.

Right bottom corner: W106th Ave. in Broomfield CO looking south-west (Google Maps)
Landing. Another plane just took off.
A debrief in his office and I went back to my road-bound zero-altitude vehicle to drive home until next time.


PillowNaut said...

This is so awesome! And great astronaut training. You are so lucky to live so close to an airport where you can take lessons!

Anonymous said...

how about sallary? of private pilot?~