Trial Lesson

Yesterday I had a trial flying lesson with Cambridge Aero Club at Cambridge Airport. I’d decided to do this before signing up for the course in case I discovered I was petrified once in the air etc (while I had been up in a light aircraft before, I was about 14 or 15 at the time as it was in the CCF at school).

I had a short briefing with my instructor (Steve), who asked me why I was doing the lesson, and then told me what we were going to be doing, and roughly where we would be going etc. He also demonstrated with a little model what all the flight controls do (though having done lots of reading about this I was already familiar with it).

We then went out to the aircraft, a Cessna 172 (G-UFCB) – Steve had already done the pre flight checks so he showed me how to get in (the first thing I noticed was quite how cramped the cabin felt versus my memory of my other flight  – I guess I’ve got a lot bigger in the last 11-12 years!), then went through some safety information about how to evacuate in an emergency (needless to say I hope never to have to experience this).

Steve then went through the pre startup checks, getting the engine going etc. He copied down the ATIS information (an automated radio message with details about current wind conditions, altimeter settings etc), and then radioed for taxi clearance.

We had to take a slightly longer route than normal to the runway, as there was a Hercules doing some testing near to the normal route (Cambridge airport is the base of Marshalls, who do a lot of maintenance work for both commercial and military aircraft). We ended up in a queue of aero club aircraft (it seems their entire fleet of 172s was going out!) heading down to the hold.

At the hold, we waited for the aircraft in front to do its power checks (making sure the engine is working properly and the temperatures and pressures are all normal), then it got clearance, taxiied on to the runway and off it went. We then did our power checks, got our clearance and we went on runway 05.

I was impressed with quite how quickly we left the ground – while the main runway at Cambridge is very long to accommodate the aircraft they perform maintenance for, we seemed to use virtually none of it before we rotated and were in the air.

G-UFCB at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) 2007 at RAF Fairford, England.

After we’d climbed out and got out of the Cambridge ATZ, Steve levelled off, and asked me to take control and try and maintain the ‘picture’ (how the horizon looks relative to the nose). I was surprised by quite how much the aircraft ‘wobbled’ due to turbulence and little bits of wind etc, and also by how gentle you had to be on the controls to avoid overcorrecting these.

There were a few things where Steve asked me to follow him through by lightly holding the controls – I found this quite tricky as I was paranoid about holding them too hard and accidentally putting an input in, but holding them very softly due to the vibration my hands were moving around a lot – going to have to get used to doing this I think.

The lesson continued with Steve managing the throttle and asking me to do some climbs, descents, and left and right banked turns. He also demonstrated how you need to ‘plan ahead’ when to roll out on a turn, by asking me to turn towards a lake, and level off when I thought we were heading towards it – of course we ended up pointing significantly to the left of it!

Despite it being an hours lesson, all too soon we were heading back towards the airport – coming in over Cambridge (above 2000 feet due to noise abatement procedures) was great – I didn’t manage to see my house, but I did recognise a few bits and pieces once I’d matched the overhead view of the roads to work out where we were. As we turned on to final (heading directly for the runway) I noticed quite how close the station was to the airport from the air (it’s a shame it takes so long to get between them on the ground!).

The landing was uneventful, and we then taxied back to the parking area, shut down and went for a brief post flight debriefing, at which point Steve told me I had been doing what almost everybody does at first, which is holding the nose a little too high when trying to keep it level, such that we climbed slightly (when it’s actually level instinct was telling me we must be descending), but other than that I did very well, which is always nice to hear.

Overall I had a great time, and booked my first ‘proper’ lesson (though apparently this hour will count towards the minimum 45 I need for a PPL which is good) for the following week – it’s going to be a ground lesson (learning how to taxi etc), so no flying which is a shame, however clearly an important aspect to learn none the less!

Things to remember from this flight:

  • Try to avoid bringing the nose too high when flying level
  • When taxiing on grass, you need to apply back pressure to try and reduce the pressure on the wheels
  • When going between hard and soft surfaces (e.g. a grass taxiway to a tarmac one), always do so at an angle so one wheel moves over at a time

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