Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flying Lesson

On the way home from San Rafael, I stopped by Hayward Airport and took a flying lesson on last Monday.

Your question -- no doubt prompted by this photo -- is, "Which plane did you fly, Brian?"

I'll leave it to you to guess whether it was the Cessna 172R (in the foreground) or the Dassault Falcon 2000 (in the background).

For the record, I did attempt to talk Abel, the flight instructor, into letting me fly the other plane.

Before boarding the flight, I spent about thirty minutes practicing on a flight simulator. I've flown sailplanes a few times (twenty yikes! years ago), so I remembered the basic mechanics.

But before they even turned me loose on the flight simulator, Abel sat down with me and asked why I wanted to fly. Just for fun? A hobby? Did I want to learn to fly professionally? I don't imagine I'd ever fly professionally, but for many years I've entertained the idea of getting my private pilot's license.

If you'd ever seen me on a plane, you'd have had an inkling that I was interested in being more than just a passenger. Maybe you've seen me (or someone like me). I'm the guy on the United flight with the headphones on during taxiing, takeoff, and landing. That's channel 9 I'm listening to.

Channel 9 (a.k.a. "From the Flightdeck") allows passengers to listen to live radio communications between the cockpit and Air Traffic Control. I won't pretend to understand everything they're saying, but I do listen for my flight's call signal and the altitude/heading instructions.

I'm the guy with his face plastered against the window, trying to determine which runway we'll use.

I'm the guy who's pinned his compass to the back of the headrest of the seat in front so that I can determine our heading during landing so that I can retrace our flight path on Google Earth when I get to the hotel after the flight.

I'm the guy who notices that we have begun our descent before the pilot announces, "We have begun our descent."

I'm the guy listening for the sound of the flaps extending and the landing gear lowering.

I'm the guy critiquing the landing. Did the pilot flare skillfully resulting in a smooth landing or did the pilot mash the gear into the runway? I always love the former (and have been known to applaud) and I respect that sometimes mashing the gear to make contact is sometimes the right call. I prefer a gear mashing two point landing to the sometimes stomach turning one point landing.

In other words, I'm the guy that you called a dweeb. But I'm a (mostly inwardly) enthusiastic dweeb.

During our little chat, I could tell that Abel was trying to impress upon me the importance of understanding the theory behind flight. He wanted to discourage me from just wanting to hop in the plane and fly and to heck with how it works. Funny thing was, he needn't have worried about me. I want to understand the mechanics. I'm not just fascinated by the act of flight itself, I want to understand what's going on to keep roughly a ton of metal from plummeting from the sky.

So after the flight simulator and after a refresher on flaps and rudders and ailerons and the like, we walked out onto the tarmac and to the plane.

As we got closer to the plane, I (being the thoughtful husband that I am) thought it would be a good time to check in with Alicia to see if she was still onboard with the plan to accompany me and the flight instructor. I knew that she would likely be having second thoughts the moment she saw the size of the plane.

To her credit, she didn't back out. I think she regretted it later, but she didn't back out.

Abel let me taxi out to the runway. One thing I do on planes (and boats) is struggle with oversteering. As we taxied, I swear my feet were treating the rudder like bicycle pedals. I'll learn to finesse it one day.

When Abel received clearance for us to take off, we taxied out onto runway 28R, throttled up, and as I pulled back on the controls, the plane became airborne.

To this day, I'm always exhilarated at that moment when the plane takes to the air. How utterly amazing is it that we humans can fly?

Runway numbers (e.g. 28) indicate the direction the runway points. Runway 28 is roughly west. So as we took off we were flying roughly towards SFO. Abel pointed out that we needed to remain at a lower altitude -- here's the cool part -- and I knew why. The airspace into OAK and Hayward overlap.

We banked to the right and headed east. Somebody help me here... What's the name of the mountain range to the east of Hayward. Anyway, we flew over those and below I could see highways 580 and 680, so we must have been over Pleasanton or Livermore.

Abel had me practice climbing to altitude, maintaining a heading, turning, and other basic skills.

When we circled back towards Hayward, I was able to spot the airport based on having paid attention so many times flying into Oakland over the years. I rarely fly into Oakland these days, but I remember it well.

I can't take credit for the majority of the landing. Abel lined us up with the runway and kept us on the glide path, but he did let me do the flare. I'd love to say that I did a fabulous job, but then I remember that Alicia was in the back seat and that she'd probably have a different recollection.

I don't have any immediate plans to pursue that pilot's license. I know that I'm going to be busy traveling for the rest of the year. But come next year, Watsonville Airport is not far away. :-)


  1. You look great in the pilot's chair. I agree: there are very few things as exciting as that moment that a 'ton of metal' (or more!) shakes off some of gravity's chains.

    I've always-always wanted to get my pilot's license. I just don't bother to mention it since it is way down the list behind a horde of responsibilities. I still remember my first visit to the cockpit when I was five (it was also my first flight, off to Iowa to see my great-grandmother).

    Neat post! Thank you. I hope you pursue this.

  2. Behind a "horde of responsibilities"? Never let responsibilities stand in your way, CJ! ;-)