The Road To Flight

October 30, 2007 · Posted in personal, projects 

I finally found a flight instructor who could take me on at New River Valley’s Airport in Dublin, VA. It’s about 35 minutes to the SW of Blacksburg.

The aircraft I’m flying now is a Cessna 172 Skyhawk from 1963. That might sound old, but with small airplanes it’s a little different, as it’s just a bunch of sheet metal, rods, cables and an engine. So as long as the engine works, your flight controls are attached to their respective components and the wings work well enough to provide lift, you’re good to fly.

I was flying a Piper Cherokee 140, which is a low winged aircraft as opposed to the Cessna’s high wings. The high wing is nice since it lets you see more of the ground you’re flying over, but they blind you going into turns, as the wing dips below the horizon line and all you can ever see out the other side is sky.

Sunday’s flight was 1.3 hours long, involved two take offs and landings, slow flight, steep turns, power on stalls, power off stalls, spin recovery, emergency landing simulation and cross country navigation. The spin recovery was the most exciting since I had never done one of those before. The thing is, to recover from a spin, you have to get into one. So with the throttle at full, the plane nose up and about to stall (wing stall, not engine stall), my flight instructor slammed the left rudder down just as the plane’s wings stalled, and went nose down. Except instead of going nose down just below the horizon like a normal stall recovery, the plane did a hammerhead roll, pivoting on the left wing and pointing straight at the ground from about 4,000 feet up, all the while spinning slowly like a corkscrew. Now, I wasn’t expecting him to do this so it was a good thing I trusted him because I just let him do what he needed to recover from the spin. But it was definitely scary.

Emergency landing simulations were fun too. The power is pulled all the way off and the plane is slowed to about 80 mph, which is the best glide speed for the Cessna, meaning that the plane will stay in the air the longest at that speed. So you have to keep the nose down just enough to maintain that speed and the lift it produces. Next, a place to land is found and an attempt is made to land there. We came about 50 feet up from the ground over a field of cows and almost into a line of trees because the field I was heading for was just a bit too far. Better luck next time. Full power and we were climbing back up to 4,000 feet.

The next step is to get recertified for solo flight and start dual and solo cross country flights. Winter is a good time to fly as long as it’s not windy or snowing. The air is dense, providing for better lift and the skies are clearer with no chance of thunderstorms (unless you’re in Blacksburg where we have thunderstorms in winter and other weather anomalies).

I’m going back up this Saturday (depending on the weather), so I’ll take some pictures this time. The area we fly over is right over Claytor Lake and the “New” River (one of the oldest rivers in the world). It’s absolutely gorgeous and very exciting flying in between the Appalachian mountains.

The ultimate goal of mine is to obtain my instrument rating (the ability to fly in less than visible conditions solely by the instruments in the plane), commercial certificate (the ability to be paid to fly, with a requirement of about 250 flight hours minimum), and then finally my CFI rating (certificated flight instructor to teach flying). I’ll have my private pilot’s license soon enough but the other ratings and certificates won’t come until much later. Luckily, the VT Hokie Flying Club has airplanes for rent and members get several hours a month to fly included in the dues.

2007-11-02 Edit: Just for clarification, all altitudes are ASL (above sea level). New River Valley Airport is 2,105 ft above the sea making a 4,000 foot maneuver closer to the ground at 1,900 feet. I believe the highest I’ve ever been is 3,000 ft AGL.

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