During my most recent flying lesson (mid-April 2017), for various reasons which I’ll explain below, my pre-flight briefing took place outside. Normally I have my pre-flights in the briefing room with my instructor. On that particular day, Elstree Airport’s (EGTR) air traffic control gave us rare permission to drive to the plane. So, Ivan drove me in his car to the plane. Normally I would wheel myself in the wheelchair, then put the wheelchair in the back seat of the plane before going flying.
I got out of Ivan’s car and crawled slowly to the plane. YES, you heard me right – crawled!
Why did I crawl you may be wondering? Well, the day before, some lovely fellow human stole my wheelchair from outside my house; from my front door no less! That thief isn’t going to stop me from getting into the air. These are the strengths I need as women with a disability, to realise my dream of becoming an aviatrix.
Wooooooooooo and may I say, hooooooo! Yes! I’m back in the air again. After a horrendous winter, with weather stopping my flight training, the aeroplane going into maintenance, it has been a frustrating few months. These out of my control issues are just part of being a student pilot and a general aviation pilot.
I took this photo before taxiing off with Ivan (my awesome instructor); we’re now undertaking steep turns (yes at 45 degrees) in our wonderful 4 seat aeroplane, the Piper PA28.
I first embarked on my dream to realise my Private Pilot Licence (PPL) during winter 2015. The weather has been a major factor in the progression of my course. Which has taught me a valuable lesson – the weather is king..as in the words of John Lennon..”The Answer my friend is blowing in the wind”
Since January 2017, my limited availability for flying lesson has meant that I’ve always bee unlucky with bad weather days. The few days when the weather was flyable, I wasn’t available…
The repeated foggy days and low-level cloud meant I’ve only had 1 lesson – out of 12 that were booked!!! I’ve felt like pulling my hair out…Ahhh.
Almost everyone who knew this said I’ve been one of the unluckiest students ever! But never mind, let us crack on now the weather is improving. Regardless of not being able to fly, I’ve kept my focus and continued to read around my pilot training subject at home.
The nice feeling is, I’ve passed all my 9 written exams – so all I have to do now is just enjoy the flying now that Spring has arrived.
The book I’m now reading is; Pooleys PPL book 1. My entire PPL study pack was generously provided free of charge by Sebastian (who runs Pooleys). PPL book 1 has the entire PPL flight exercises. I read each chapter before my lessons, make notes, then discuss the things that I didn’t completely understand in the classroom with Ivan. Ivan gives me a pre-flight briefing where we discuss the airborne exercises, then complete the flight; with a post flight de-brief. During which time in the classroom, van carefully explains what I did well and the things we will review during the next lesson.
The day was sunny but the wind was very cold, I had my scarf wrapped round tight! The airfield is on flat ground surrounded by buildings which can cause wind waves coming across the runway, but also the cold wind makes your hands and face feel very very cold.
Ivan is trying to drill into my head all the pre-flight and pre-departure checks so that they become second nature.
We went through them, one-by-one; for example, checking the magnetos, checking fuses, checking instruments gauges, checking the free and full movement of the control column and so on.
On the ground and in the air, you use checklists for different things. BUT don’t try and do all pre-flight checks from memory; there are however checks such as, pre-stall checks, and other emergency checks that are best to learn from memory. You may not have the luxury of time to do those emergency checks using the printed checklist.
We eventually get airborne, and in the air, Ivan showed me how to do climbing and descending. Attitude, power, trim, attitude, power, trim!
That’s what I had to keep reminding myself. Attitude is the planes pitch angle in relation to the horizon. Which means I need to make sure I can see a certain amount of the horizon in relation to the windscreen or the nose of the aeroplane – to maintain a level and steady flight or to climb and descend. I also look at the end of each wingtip and use the distant between the wingtip and the horizon as another reference point for straight and level flight. Then cross check with my instruments; Attitude instrument, Turn coordinator, the rate of climb and descent instrument.
Power, you can probably guess that that is adjusting the power with the throttle.
The trim – trimming is my nemesis! The trim wheel has to be turned to ensure there isn’t any, for want of a better word, pressure (?) on the control column. Which helps to offload the pilot workload, whilst stabalising the control surfaces for level and straight flight.
I always end up with a blister on my thumb afterwards. I know that may sound simple, but it took up over an hour to practice trimming. But once get the hang of it, it will really make flying the aeroplane more natural and intuitive.
Ivan showed me what happens when a plane stalls, how to recover and we went onto to practice slow flying. Slow flying is taking off and landing. I found it to be one of the more easier flying exercises I’ve done so far; that is until I came to turning during the slow phase of flight! That’s another story!
When flying slowly, limit the turns to between 5° & 15° degrees. This limits any wing overs, which could get you into a spin due to the differences in each wings angle of attack.
I found it hard to keep the nose at an acceptable angle whilst banking within limits. For some reason, I kept focusing on the power (needle chasing Ivan called it!) which made me lose sight of the nose angle in relation to the horizon..with enough practice I eventually got the hang of it. At which point it was time to go home.
On the way back Ivan did that steep bank turn I mentioned – but this time at 60° degrees, my favourite manoeuvre so far!
During the approach and landing, Ivan let me do all the flying, he only did small adjustments to make sure we stayed on course. I was very proud of myself…
I write this before my next flying lesson, which will be on the 25th of April 2017. I’m hoping to perfect my slow turns before moving onto the next exercise.
I’m nothing, if not persistent, and I’m sure my family, friends and supporters can attest to that. As that is how I’ve come to be here at Elstree learning to become a pilot! – with cheekiness, a smile, lots of persistence, and of course, sheer determination!
Until the next time, I’m going back to reading,reading,reading!
I get a huge amount of encouragement and support from my mentors and supporters. Their belief in me is incredible and it only drives me on; without the following organisations, none of this would be possible.
Please visit their websites and learn more about their important work;
The Douglas Bader Foundation: http://www.douglasbaderfoundation.com
Airplan Flight Equipment (AFE): http://www.afeonline.com/shop
Freedom in the Air: Let Talent Fly | #YouHaveControl
Pooleys Flight Equipment: https://www.pooleys.com