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  what you will need
  what to expect when flying
  first time experience flying
  flight training FAQs
  how aircraft fly
  about the aircraft
  inside the cockpit
  how to control an aircraft
  how to read an air map
  basic aircraft navigation
  about airfields
  choose the right flying school
  what pilot ratings mean
  all about pilot ratings
  flight training links

first time experience

Flying, I've come to find, is challenging, but not impossible. Mark (the co-worker who got me hooked in the first place) referred me to a flight instructor at the Squadron Two Flying Club in San Jose. He then gave me a price listing of what it would take to get a pilot's certification flying a Cessna 152--the cheapest rental plane in the fleet. It wasn't bad, so after a two-hour phone call, we set up lessons. There would be an hour of ground instruction, and then I was to get into the plane and fly it. As simple as that.

I sneaked out of work at four and met my instructor at the flying club, in what used to be the old San Jose Airport. While The instructor explained the syllabus (wow, things go by fast------I do my first solo flight when?), a steady line of jets rumbled by the front window on their way to the runway. We covered pre-flight, including pre-flighting the pilot, then grabbed the keys and trotted out to the lot to meet "my" airplane, 714VT.

Despite its nickname, "Vicious Terrible," the small yellow-and-white plane looked un-intimidating enough. After a long, step-by-step pre-flight, we towed the plane out of its parking space, strapped in and started it up.

Here lay the first challenge: taxiing. Unlike a car, where you steer with your hands and control speed with your feet, in a plane you steer with your feet on the nose wheel/rudder pedals and control speed with your hand on the throttle. There are also brakes at the tips of the rudder pedals. This took some getting used to, and under my "control," the plane wobbled drunkenly all over the place. Also, with my hand on the throttle, I got the impression I was running a lawn mower with wings.

We finally got into position by the runway and did our final check on the engine, electrical systems and controls, and then it was our turn to take off. I managed to get Vicious Terrible off the ground by myself, and as we were climbing straight out, the radio went dead. Unconcerned, the instructor left me to fly the plane while he whacked at the radio--brave guy. He got it working somewhat, and we turned to the mountains over Palo Alto and began manoeuvres.

The first lesson consisted of very simple stuff: straight and level flight, making shallow turns, climbs and descents, and trimming the nose (there's a little wheel or crank you adjust to set up back pressure and make flying easier). The only thing that made flying difficult at this point was the setting sun, which was right in my eyes, and I'd forgotten my sunglasses. Oh, and I had to keep my hand on the throttle at all times, which was rough on my shoulder. This is, I was told, to establish a habit that will eventually protect me from a sadistic inspector during my check ride--with my hand there, the inspector can't "inadvertently" push in or yank out the throttle without my knowledge. That's encouraging.

Again, the radio futzed out and The instructor started whacking at it again, and decided to call it a day, but at least the radio worked enough for us to get landing clearance.

Landing... the syllabus didn't say anything about my landing the plane, and here I learned my first true lesson of the day: expect the unexpected. We turned over downtown San Jose and approached the airport, dropping altitude, and the instructor still doesn't have his hands and feet anywhere near the controls. The runway looms closer, and he still hasn't said, "My airplane," meaning I give over control. The ground is getting closer, and suddenly some bumpy air starts knocking the plane arou-aaaAAAAAAA! "Don't get ground-shy," The instructor says. Ground-shy? I don't wanna hit the ground! One more hard bounce, and The instructor takes over.

The lesson ends and I drag myself home at nine o' clock, giggling insanely. I flew the plane--that's so cool! The instructor hadn't touched the controls for nine tenths of the trip.