I’ve spent the last week obsessing over the weather since my first cancelled lesson. Checking the forecast on several websites as well as looking at the METAR and TAF information for Bristol Airport. For those that don’t know, these are highly standardised weather reports and forecasts used globally and understood by meteorologists and pilots throughout most of the world. These were the reports a couple of hours before my lesson:
METAR EGGD 041150Z 28013KT 9999 FEW021 20/14 Q1019 TAF EGGD 041058Z 0412/0512 27011KT 9999 SCT030 BECMG 0500/0503 16005KT BECMG 0509/0512 24010KT PROB30 TEMPO 0510/0512 6000 SHRA
I’m only just starting to get my head around METAR and TAF weather reports, but the website I got these from (www.checkwx.com) has a fancy way of decoding the information and displaying it in a much more user friendly way. Basically, the visibility was good with only a few clouds and the wind wasn’t too fast or gusting at all. I phoned the flight school to confirm and they said conditions were perfect.
I arrived at the club about half an hour before my lesson and my instructor, Derek, was already there. We went into one of the briefing rooms and talked over my flying experience to date and what today’s lesson would involve. He used a wooden model aeroplane to demonstrate how the controls affected the ailerons, elevators and rudder. He also explained how each control also has a secondary effect, for example yawing the plane with the rudder also tends to bank the plane.
After this we went out to the airfield. Being an international airport, security was tight. Derek had to swipe his badge and enter a PIN for the swivel gate to let me through the 8 foot high barbed wire fence. We made our way over to the aeroplane, a Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee with the registration G-BCJN that is older than I am! Derek said he’d done the external pre-flight checks several times that day and he was sure everything was in order, so we could get in and start the lesson.
We both put our headsets on, Derek tuned the radio to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) and checked the weather one last time. Then Derek contacted the control tower and asked for permission to start the engine, this was given along with our clearance instructions and squawk which was entered into the transponder. We taxied to the runway, did the pre-takeoff checks and were then given clearance to take off.
Moments later we were accelerating down the runway and Derek was asking me to pull back on the control column and climb away from the airfield. We climbed to a height of about 1,800 feet and headed South over Cheddar Reservoir, which is an almost perfectly circular reservoir just past the Mendip Hills. I was tasked with flying the plane straight and level, using the horizon outside the aircraft as a reference point not the instruments inside like you would in a simulator. It was at about this point that the GoPro camera I had suckered to the window in the plane to record my lesson came loose and fell off, recording the inside of Derek’s bag for the remainder of the flight. This 3 minute video has some edited highlights of my first lesson:
Next Derek took me through the primary and further effects of the controls. When you turn the control column, one aileron raises and the other lowers banking the plane through the longitudinal axis, this is the primary effect of the control. However, the plane will also tend to yaw about it’s normal axis (sometimes referred to the vertical axis. However, this is only true when the plane is flying straight and level, therefore the preferred name for the axis is the normal axis because in geometry the word normal means perpendicular). If this yawing movement if left uncorrected a spiral descent will form. This is the further effect of the control.
The same is true of the rudder. When you push one pedal in the plane yaws, or turns, about the normal axis. Turning is the primary effect of rudder control, the further effect is that the plane will tend to bank. This was demonstrated with quite dramatic effect, I pushed in the rudder pedal and moments later we were in a bank pointing towards the ground.
Finally, pulling back or pushing forward on the control column alters the elevators which rotates the plane about the lateral axis and puts it into a climb or a descent. This is the primary effect, along with this the plane will also slow down when climbing and speed up when descending, this is the further effect of the control.
Then Derek demonstrated how the trim wheels work. Altering trim changes the amount of pressure needed on the control column or rudder pedals. The Piper Cherokee has both an elevator trim and a rudder trim, the elevator trim wheel is located between the two front seats and you move it forward to relieve forward pressure and you move it backwards to relieve backward pressure. The rudder trim is located in the fron of the aircraft, underneath the instruments between the two front seats. Derek miss-trimmed the aeroplane and I was tasked with re-trimming it to remove first control column pressure, then rudder pedal pressure. This is something that I’m going to need to practice, I couldn’t quite get it right, hopefully this is just about learning how controls should feel when trimmed correctly.
The last thing we did was observe how the controls change in effectiveness depending on how fast the plane was going. When wind is blowing over the control surfaces quickly all the controls are responsive and only slight movement is needed to change the plane’s configuration. When the plane’s going slowly but the engine is still rotating the propellor quickly (e.g. in a climb) then the ailerons and rudder are not very responsive as the air is moving slowly over the surfaces, but the elevator is stil responsive as it has the slipstream created from the propellor keeping the wind speed over this surface high. When the plane’s going slowly and the engine isn’t rotating the propellor very much (e.g. in a descent) then there is no slipstream and none of the controls are very responsive.
After all this was done it was time to head back to the airfield. We approached Cheddar Reservoir after descending to about 1,800 feet (Bristol airport is surrounded by controlled airspace, you’re not allowed to fly above 2,000 feet and need permission to enter the airspace at any altitude). Derek radioed Bristol Radar to ask for permission to enter and then tuned into Bristol Tower. Derek asked if I knew where the airport was. I looked outside and couldn’t see it, so pointed to the right and said I thought it was over there somewhere. I was completely wrong, the airfield was straight in front of us! It’s a lot harder to see in real life compared to in a flight simulator.
We were given instructions to join downwind on a left circuit. I’m fairly certain I know what this means, but Derek said not to worry about it this lesson. When we approached the end of the runway we were told to hold (which means flying in circles) as there were two commercial jets inbound. We watched them land and were then given our own landing clearance while being reminded that the recommended separation between the last jet and us was 5 miles.
We turned perpendicular to the runway, then left again to point towards the runway centre-line. Derek controlled our descent at 70 knots explaining that he was now maintaining our speed with the elevators and our descent rate with the throttle. This is counter-intuitive to what you might expect, climbing and descending will be the topic of a future lesson, so I didn’t worry to much about the details. We landed smoothly, taxied back to the South side of the airport and parked up.
Back in the flying school Derek took me through the paper work for the plane, explaining he was recording the fuel quantity left in the tanks as well as noting down the flying time and where we went. He then talked me through entering my very first entry in my log book.
That was a lot to take in for my first lesson. It all seemed to make sense, but there’s a huge amount to remember. I just hope that as I have more lessons it becomes easier to remember everything and I start to find it easier to control the plane. At the moment it feels like I’m constantly fighting with the controls. Derek seems to be able to control it so smoothly. At least I now have some flying experience.