Chris Roberts

Learning to Fly

• Posted in Flying

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with flight. It probably started with visits to the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford with my Dad when I was young. Over the years I've flown radio controlled gliders and helicopters, and still do when I make the time. When I was a teenager I had a few gliding lessons until I grew too tall for the club's gliders. I also had a few lessons flying a Cessna 152 at Staverton Flying School, but it wasn't long before the funds available to me at the time dried up and I had to stop taking lessons.

In summer 2015 I had to make some difficult decisions which fundamentally affected my family's livelihood. This gave me an opportunity to take a look at life - and in particular the fact that my work / life balance had for too long been skewed rather heavily towards work. It came as quite a shock when I realised that over 15 years had passed since my last flying lesson.

So - whilst life is still very busy, the fear of another 15 years slipping by has encouraged me to take to the skies once more without further delay! I must say that this decision wasn't taken lightly. This is by no means a cheap hobby, and I'm exceptionally grateful for the support of my wife who not only puts up with the financial drain, but also releases me from various other obligations from time to time when I have lessons booked or need to study.

What's Involved

I'm working towards obtaining an EASA PPL(A) licence. This is a 'full', internationally recognised Private Pilot's Licence which will allow me to fly certain classes of light aircraft virtually anywhere in the world. In order to be granted this licence I will need to complete a minimum of 45 hours of flight, of which at least 10 will need to be flown 'solo'. There are also 9 written exams, an oral exam and finally, a 2 hour flight test.

My current estimate is that this little lot will take me about 2 years to complete.

Where am I Now?

Right now my logbook is showing a total of 12 hours and 15 minutes of flight. I have learned to perform all of the various pre-flight checks and taxi the aircraft around the aerodrome. I have some basic radio skills which allow me to communicate with air traffic control. I can comfortably take-off, fly straight and level at a desired airspeed, ascend, descend and turn onto specific headings. I have learned to recover from stalls (where the aircraft loses its ability to produce lift, as opposed to an engine stall).

I have also studied for and taken the first two written exams - "Air Law" and "Operational Procedures". I must say that learning and revising from books with a view to passing an exam was a surprisingly strange feeling (although having not done an exam for nearly 20 years, it shouldn't have come as that much of a surprise!). However alien the process felt, I obviously hadn't completely lost the ability to learn as I managed to pass the exams with a score of 94% and 92% respectively.

In addition to being able to competently fly and land the aircraft, passing these two exams and obtaining a medical certificate are the prerequisites to being allowed to fly 'solo'. So, with this in mind I have also been for my first Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) medical. This was a fairly thorough affair which I was relieved to sail through without a problem.

My lessons have now turned to flying 'circuits'. This involves taking-off, flying a rectangular 'lap' and landing again on the same runway. Having landed, you apply full power, take-off and do it all again. In a 1 hour lesson I am able to achieve 7 circuits. With each circuit consisting of various checklists to complete, radio calls to make and an increased level of traffic to contend with - a huge level of concentration is required.

Of the 3 circuits sessions I've had to-date, the first (I'm told) went exceptionally well. The second went rather badly and the third was better, but not as good as the first. Landings are proving to be tricky to get right and in my last two lessons I just haven't been able to get in 'the groove'. Through years of playing with flight simulators, my approaches have been pretty good. This involves getting the aircraft to the correct place on the correct runway, on the desired descent path, despite any winds which may be trying to push you off course.

The challenge is getting the last 20ft of the descent to the point of touchdown right. This involves 'rounding out' at the right height to slow the rate of descent and allow the aircraft to gently float to the ground whilst transitioning to an angle which allows the rear wheels to gently touchdown before the nose wheel. I am tending to leave this a little too late, risking an overly heavy landing or, even worse, the possibility of the nose wheel touching down first.

But - I must remember that it's still early days! I have a couple of lessons booked for next week so I'm hoping to really make some progress. Getting this right is the last barrier to my next major milestone - the first solo!