IT COULDN'T HAPPEN AT OUR SCHOOL! ......... COULD IT?
Acknowledgements: My trial flight (AIR FACTS/Tom Curran)
I took my first-ever light airplane ride at a small airfield where the one small FBO sported a “Piper Flight Centre” sign above the door, with a couple of relatively new PA28s parked out front. Inside, I presented myself to the combination receptionist/ cashier/ scheduler/ Unicom radio operator and told her I was interested in taking their trial flight.
She leaned past my shoulder to yell at someone behind me, whereupon a very young CFI bounded from his office, grasped my hand, shook it vigorously, and commented on my firm grip …… “You’ll need a lighter touch on the controls!” We signed out the keys, walked out to a plane parked outside the door, and as I looked back at the receptionist I swear she silently mouthed “Good luck…”
The instructor hopped on the wing, opened the single, right-side door, flipped some switches on and off, and then jumped down directing me to follow him as he did the pre-flight inspection. He walked briskly around the airplane, naming each part that he touched, briefly describing its function and what exactly he was checking for at “ground speed zero.”
Understanding little of what he was saying, it did occur to me that I had seen other airplanes with at least TWO doors! …… anyway, when he was done he asked me if I had any last questions (or was it last requests?), but before I could respond he gestured toward the black strip along the right wing root, so up I went into the cabin.
Now, I am neither claustrophobic nor prone to air sickness but the idea that he was going to sit next to me and block my escape had a very sobering effect as I struggled with the seat belt. I contemplated how difficult it would be for me to throw up, let alone escape, through the tiny hinged vent window near my left arm, as he continued to gabble about all things flying.
He strapped in and started the flurry of events needed to start the engine. I saw a radio, and as soon as he started the engine I could hear a chorus of cool-sounding airplane-speak coming through the ceiling-mounted speaker. But I noticed he never once took the hand-held microphone out of its holder to speak. Surely, we get to talk on the radio too, I thought?
We only had to taxi a few feet from parking to the run-up area, where he explained it was important to point the airplane into the wind to aid with engine cooling during the run-up. But first, the flight controls: “Left up/right down, right up/left down, stabilator free and moving, rudder full left/rudder full right, flight controls checked…” ….. Man, could he talk! During the run-up he had to yell over the din of the engine and the chatter on the radio, but persisted in explaining everything he was doing.
He checked the mags, carb heat, mixture, fuel selector, DG, lights, flaps and trim then flew his hands around the instrument panel one last time and asked “Ready?” …… which I now realize was a rhetorical question! Even if I wasn’t “ready,” he wasn’t going to let me escape at this point. He reached up and locked the door - I was trapped!
The taxi from run-up to take-off took no time at all. I recall him telling me to “follow him lightly on the controls”, and as we pulled forward onto the runway without stopping, he explained that the concept of “steering with your feet” might take some getting used to. A 90-degree left turn, followed by a 90-right, and we were stopped on the runway centreline.
Shouting to be heard over an excited voice on the radio, he was explaining what might happen if the plane did not accelerate “normally” during the take-off roll when I saw a shadow come over the wing on my side and then flash over the engine cowling. The belly of an airplane was close enough I could see dirt and oil streaks running down the middle and hear its engine over our own! Touching down maybe four plane-lengths in front of us it means he was probably already in the flare when we pulled out in front of him!
The CFI just sat there staring down the runway, continuing to jabber about something: I don’t recall what, but I do remember the voice on the radio sounding really agitated! As we could not see the entire runway because of a “hump” in the middle, we sat there until the tail of the Cessna disappeared over the horizon, and waited another minute. Then the CFI released the brakes and shoved the throttle forward. I would have got out if I could have reached the door!
I don’t remember much about the fully-narrated 15-minute flight, other than “There’s my high school” and “That’s the park where Ted Bundy kidnapped his last victim.” I just wanted to be back on the ground and out of this one-door airplane. We made it back, landed, taxied back to parking, and shut down, all without further incident.
After a very thorough post-flight inspection, to “make sure we brought all the big pieces back,” we went inside to the receptionist/cashier/scheduler/Unicom radio operator’s counter to complete the required paperwork and payment, after which the CFI stuck out his hand and enthusiastically inquired: “So, are you ready to start taking flying lessons?”
To which I responded, “Yes, but not here”, and walked out!