You’ve booked a trial flight with Masson Aviation or another flight school. What can you expect next?
Upon arrival at the club, you’ll be greeted by the flying instructor, an experienced pilot who will likely sit in the right-hand seat. You’ll take the left, which is customary for trainees in fixed-wing aircraft. The instructor will discuss the upcoming flight with you. Remember that you’re considering learning to fly rather than just enjoying it as a sightseeing trip.
Once you’re seated in the aircraft, you’ll find some similarities with a car—an instrument panel akin to a dashboard in a car, seats and seatbelts. The controls, however, differ. You’ll encounter a yoke akin to a pared-down steering wheel or a control stick. Some aircraft, like a Cirrus, have a side stick that provides extra space in front of you.
The instructor will then walk you through the checklist before starting the engine. At some point, you’ll likely hear them communicating via the radio. More significantly, busier airports have a control tower issuing necessary instructions, while smaller airfields operate with a lighter touch.
Next, the instructor will taxi the aircraft to a holding point for further checks and, when cleared, onto the runway. As you speed down the runway, the noise and vibration from the wheels fade as the wings generate lift. The instructor will pull back on the control yoke or stick, initiating rotation, and… you’re flying!
Once in the air and away from the airfield, the instructor may invite you to take the controls—an exhilarating experience. You’ll make a few gentle turns, ascend and descend, and maybe even execute a steep turn if you’re comfortable. The instructor will point out local landmarks, and you might even fly over your house if lucky.
The final part of the lesson is landing. This involves returning to the airfield circuit—a rectangular aerial path around the active runway, typically 1,000ft above ground—and correctly positioning the aircraft for landing.
The instructor will handle the landing but pay close attention to their actions. They’ll gradually slow down the aircraft and deploy the ‘flaps’, parts of the wing that adjust the shape to allow slower flight speeds.
The landing itself is a blend of science, skill, and art. The science involves managing speed and rate of descent. Skill comes into play when dealing with crosswinds and changes in wind speed and direction close to the ground. Around 20ft above the ground, the instructor will raise the nose to the ‘hold-off’ position and close the throttle. As the aircraft slows, it will touch down on its main wheels. The art transforms the touchdown from a ‘thump’ into a smooth ‘greaser’!
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