Reflections of Private Pilot Flight Training

It was on a mild, flawlessly-blue, September 29, 1995 day that I pulled into the modern State University of New York-College of Technology at Farmingdale Aviation Center on Long Island's Route 110, experiencing a degree of trepidation, that I began my Private Pilot Flight Training Program. That it technically constituted a "class" required for my Associate in Applied Science Degree in Aerospace Technology, shared with others I knew from the main campus facilities about two miles away, significantly extended the realm of experiential education beyond what could have been considered "routine." That I had already had a decade-and-a-half international airline career at JFK International Airport certainly qualified it as a life-consistent theme. However, I was about to assume the pilot's seat this time.


Greeted by my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), I was told to take the apocopate Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) from the Aviation Center and deposit it into the respective aircraft on the ramp. My initial and introductory lesson would be in a Cessna C-172 Skyhawk, registered N73334, a high-wing, four-seat, general aviation airplane powered by a single 160-hp, dual-bladed Avco Lycoming O-320-H2AD piston engine. Its design and performance parameters were many: its maximum useful load was 910 pounds; its maximum take off weight was 2,300 pounds; its fuel capacity was 43 gallons; its maximum speed was 125 knots; its sea level rate of climb was 770 fpm; and its service ceiling was 14,200 feet.


Checklist in hand, I made a clockwise pre-flight inspection, from propeller to flight surfaces to sumping the fuel to verify its clarity, before assuming the left seat and shoulder- and seatbelt-harnessing myself in it.


"Prop clear!" I yelled to alert anyone in its vicinity of its imminent start, resulting in the engine's grunting and grounding into slipstream-generating, elevator-bathing life. The aircraft felt alive and I was in control of it.


Requesting taxi clearance from the Aviation Center on the Republic Airport Ground frequency, I released the toe brakes without pushing the power lever further in and the rotating propeller naturally pulled the aircraft into movement along the ramp at a brisk walk's pace.


Temptation to steer with the yoke had to be resisted: it only deflected the ailerons for in-flight banking and did nothing on the ground. Rudder pedal movements ensured the nose wheel's direction.


Nudging onto the run-up pad near Runway 1's threshold, I performed a full flight check-from brakes to magnetos to freedom of flight surface movement to adjustment of the altimeter's current barometric pressure--and then switched to the Republic Tower frequency, inching on to the runway and receiving take off clearance.


Full engine power deafened the cockpit, sent a torrent of air over its aerodynamic surfaces, and propelled the high-wing aircraft into acceleration. Almost immeasurable rudder pedal pressures enabled me to keep the nose wheel on the center line, while the wheel itself, beginning to jump off the ground, was the Cessna's signal that it had gained enough speed to surrender to flight.


A gentle pull of the yoke and a right rudder pedal depression to counteract the propeller's torque, released it from its gravity constraints several thousand feet before the runway's end, as I "rode the ball," trying to keep it centered.


Ignorant of procedure, I banked to the right, upon which my flight instructor advised, "Maintain runway heading until you clear it."


The ground receded and the sky's blue purity became the new dimension of flight.


Climbing to 2,200 feet and reducing power to level off, I crossed Long Island to the Northport Stacks, as my instructor demonstrated banks and descents. The one-hour introductory flight passed rapidly.


Re-approaching Republic Airport, I radioed, "Republic tower, this is Cessna 73334, inbound for landing."


Clearance was given to "continue."


Unable, in my novice state, to actually execute the landing, I was nevertheless given the opportunity to fly a right-hand pattern, consisting of downwind, base, and final legs, the latter of which required progressive trailing edge flap extensions, which could only be counteracted by a push of the yoke to avoid the nose-rising tendency. A power reduced round out and flare reprofiled the aircraft into its immediate take off rotation angle and stripped it of its airspeed, enabling it to gently touch down on its main wheels. Brake application-assisted deceleration and a turn off to the taxiway preceded a frequency change to Republic Ground, which granted clearance to return to the Aviation Center while I "cleaned up" the aircraft by retracting its flaps. A pull of the power lever starved the engine of its fuel and all vibration, noise, and slipstream ceased.


A debriefing and logbook entry took place inside.


 

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