First training flight

A couple hours into my simulation training my instructor decided it would be a good idea to get into a real plane and practise some basic attitudes and movements – fly straight and level. Climb. Descend. Turn right. Turn left. It was in late April I think, reasonably sunny. By any account a nice day. We even planned to do a city tour to have a look at the skyline.

Problem is – sunny days heat up the ground, and a heated up ground likes to eject some of that heat back into the air, causing lifts and sinks. In a 1500 pound bucket with wings, one feels every one of those lifts and sinks. (A Honda Civic is about 2700 pounds) A pretty serious jolt could pick you up or shove you down 15 feet. Looking at the altimeter it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but think of sitting in a chair in your average building, and then suddenly being accelerated toward the ceiling, and then back down again.

The use of “bucket with wings” is meant to describe the size of the plane, not its quality. The Katana has a composite glass reinforced and carbon reinforced structure which is very solid. However the cockpit is very small. I am lucky that my instructor and I are relatively compact people, and even at that whenever I adjust the propeller speed (Similar to the idea of gearing in cars) I risk a brushing his knee that would be inappropriate in any other circumstance. The two of us can get into the plane and strap ourselves in without too much issue. On my pre-solo checkride with a different – larger – instructor, we needed to get in separately.

Back to the sunny day. We take off and I feel the wonder of flight, but my wonder is short lived. I am not a sightseer. I am a student pilot – an apprentice in the discipline of command and control of my eventual ship. My instructor rattles off a series of procedures. Climb at 60 knots – best angle of climb. Then climb at 65 knots – best rate of climb. As you pass through 900 feet, shut off the auxiliary fuel pump, raise the flaps, and adjust the propeller speed to 2400 revolutions per minute. Turn right to stay clear of the approach path to main runway. I’m already feeling bewildered. We head towards a local landmark denoted by a small suburban area. My instructor points it out but all the suburbs look the same from the sky. It’s bumpy. Every bump takes me by surprise, and it feels like inertia is keeping my stomach in one place while my body drops 10 feet, when suddenly my stomach follows.

The radio crackles with the chatter of a busy urban airport. WestJets, Air Canadas, Americans, Uniteds, are busy giving readbacks and confirming instructions.

As we approach the landmark the tower instructs us to change frequencies to the terminal control area frequency – one twenty something decimal something. I’m glad my instructor is flying because I didn’t hear the frequency, and I have no idea how to work the radio. Later prior to my solo flight I would get a 10 minute walkthrough on the radio but for a device whose functionality is remarkably simple, it’s control panel seems remarkably complex. Technology in general aviation and its attendant culture is a topic for later.

Soon we reach the boundary of the practice area, and terminal controller tells us radar service is terminated. My instructor calls the practice area and informs everyone of our intentions. I practise some basic attitudes and movements – fly straight and level. Climb. Descend. Turn right. Turn left. I’m doing an okay job but I’m beginning to feel weak. My arms are tingling, like my nerves are on fire. The bumps in the air are exacting their toll. We’re done the air work and heading for the city tour, but I decide my instructor doesn’t need any vomiting heroes. (The plane does have a motion sickness bag)

“Let’s just skip the city tour and bring it in, I think the motion sickness has really gotten to me” I say, trying to convey an air of brave understatement. My instructor understood right away and headed for the airport, and encouraged me to fixate on the horizon to steady my senses.

My instructor let me know that motion sickness isn’t a big deal, and that pretty much everyone gets over it. In the meantime, for future flights, I sought out remedies. I bought Gravol ginger chews. I chewed gum. I got Chinese ginger candies. I bought motion sickness pressure point bracelets. Since an hour of flight time with the instructor is some 180 dollars, if they made me feel better for 10 minutes in the air they would pay for themselves. After the debriefing that day I sat still on the couch in the school lounge for some 40 minutes. Didn’t read, didn’t talk, just sat for 40 minutes, just to give my balance organs a break. Even on the drive home, making turns in the car didn’t feel quite right.

I’m not really sure if any of those remedies worked but as it turned out, my instructor was partly right. I did build up a resistance, but the resistance fades with time. Even then I did manage to get through my spin training (High chance of stomach churn) without incident. In fact, the spin training was even kind of fun. Since then there have still been a couple bad days, but nothing like that first day.

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