Since I was a young'un living in Edmonton, I have always wanted to fly a plane. In fact, if I wasn't in TV I would probably be a pilot today.
About 10 years ago, I went to the Edmonton Flying Club to investigate what it would take for me to get my pilot's license. But, it seemed so out of reach for me then. Since my job with Dome Productions has me flying a lot, it's reignited my fascination with flight and with aviation in general. In the last month or so I've really been looking into what it would take to get my Private Pilot's License. It's basically a license that allows you to fly any single-engine aircraft, during the day, with as many passengers as it will seat, anywhere in the world.
In any case, most flight training starts with a Familiarization or "Fam" flight. I took mine today in a Cessna 172P (similar to the one below) out of Boundary Bay Airport.
When I showed up at Montair Aviation (the charter company and flight school I chose to go to) I got a quick tour of the facility. They have several classrooms, cool flight simulators and aircraft where they are currently training a new set of pilots for airlines in Asia or anyone else who wants to learn to fly. Mind you, most of these guys are going through a much more thorough and rigorous training program to get a Commercial Pilot License.
After a short briefing from Josh, the instructor, and signing out the aircraft, we walked out to the tarmac (which was surprisingly busy for a smaller airport) and did a walk around. All pilots have to check the plane thoroughly before even starting up the engines. Safety first. Basically it's to locate any mechanical problems or safety hazards way before you leave the ground. It's easier to fix them on the ground.
With everything in check and the plane ready to go, we strapped in. From my years of fascination with planes, I was familiar with the basics of the cockpit (i.e. all the dials and levers). I was able to identify most of them and know what they were for. Obviously their location varies from aircraft to aircraft and the bigger planes have more things to look at. But a Cessna 172 is fairly basic in that sense.
So, after flipping on the switches for the main power, and priming the engine, he had me turn the key to start it. After a few moments, he made a radio call to the tower and we got permission to taxi. He had me throddle it up and steer the plane down the taxiway to Runway 25. It's a little strange as, when you're on the ground, you steer a Cessna 172 with the rudder pedals at your feet. Press left to go left, press right to go right. Brake by pushing them back on an angle.
Once we got to Runway 25, we had to hold for two other aircraft to take off and two other aircraft to land. Once we got cleared by the tower, Josh had me throddle up to full power and steer it straight down the runway. After reaching a certain speed (I believe 45 knots or 83 km/h) he had me pull back on the yoke and the plane lifted off.
For 20 minutes, we flew over Delta and White Rock, BC. Following Highway 99 basically. He had me do turns and climb to 2200ft and decend to 1500. It was a rather windy day actually so it was bumpy. When it gets bumpy like that, especially in a smaller aircraft, you have to correct as you can get blown off course easily. Josh then had me descend to our final approach into the airport right over the water. He actually landed the plane. Runway 30 this time.
Upon landing, I heard on the radio from the tower that we needed to hold again for other aircraft to take off (Runway 30 intersects with Runway 25). I stopped the plane short of the runway and after permission from the tower, we continued to taxi back to the Montair office.
After the flight, Josh said he was impressed at how well I handled the plane for my first flight. He said I kept it at level flight at the desired altitude for the whole flight. Especially with the higher winds and the bumps. He said that most people are up and down a lot for most of the flight. He also complimented my abilities with the radio and for understanding what was being instructed of us by the tower.
Shortly after that I enrolled in Ground School (which I had planned on doing post-flight anyway). Most Ground Schools are done in classrooms. They have an online Ground School at Montair as well. So, I enrolled in that and got my special flight bag, with my text books, aviation maps, my E-6B Flight Calculator, various compasses and calculators all in a fancy bookbag.
I think the most important thing in the bag is my Pilot Log Book. Here I will keep track of every minute I fly until I don't fly anymore. My "Fam" flight this afternoon counts as a 1/2 hour. The first half hour of many I will have to fly in lessons before I get my license.