Fly Girl in Training: The four fundamentals, death grip optional

Decompressing after my first flying lesson with my fantastic instructor,
Stan. We worked on the “four fundamentals” of flying, including turns,
take-offs and landings. This girl really needs to learn how to relax.

“You’ve got a death grip going on. Relax…”

Relax?? I can’t relax. I’m trying to keep an airplane in the sky, Stan!

I wrench my hand from the yoke, now aware that I’ve been trying to crush it and my fingers ache from the pressure.

We’re on final for runway 16 at a tiny regional airport and I’m feeling what it’s like to make a stabilized approach and flare the airplane to land smoothly. This means we’ve configured the power, speed, altitude and aircraft surfaces (flaps) to make a controlled glide to the ground. And when we get close to the runway, we tip up the nose just slightly to increase angle of attack, slow down as much as possible, and gently touch town on the main landing gear before setting down the nosewheel. (Imagine you have a tricycle marionette and you want to set it down on the back wheels first. You’d need to lift up a bit on the front strings as you “land” and then gently set down the front tire.)

All that without pulverizing the yoke with the force of nerves.


Although I started my initial work in Mr. T’s
Cessna 182, I transitioned to the lighter and
less powerful Cessna 172 for the time being.
Primarily, the 182 is down for the annual
inspection, but also, the 172 is a bit less
complicated. The good news? It burns less gas.

My first formal flying lesson started with what my instructor Stan calls the “four fundamentals”: flying straight and level, climbing, descending and slow flying. I practiced making 90-degree and 180-degree turns at various attitudes, using farmers’ crop lines as visual guides.

Between you and me, I need to make friends with the rudder pedals. Unlike in a car where turns are made with the steering wheel, airplanes require “coordinated” turns which involve banking the plane by turning the yoke with your hands and maneuvering the direction of the nose by pressing the rudder pedals with your feet. And keeping the nose at the correct attitude. It’s a little like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. While in the freaking sky.

After turning, my instructor said we’d practice ground reference maneuvers in the landing pattern. It took me awhile to realize this would involve landing the airplane. (I can’t wait until the prospect stops instilling fear in my heart.)

Not feeling at all prepared, I listened as Stan indicated how to get the 172 configured. While I made adjustments and turned from various points of the pattern–from downwind to base, and base to final (more on what that means soon)–Stan told me to call our position to local traffic over the radio.

Okay. In two long sentences, that doesn’t sound very taxing, but trying to keep the plane at the proper altitude, speed and power setting, and turn, and talk to other planes in the proper manner (again, more on that soon)… I thought my brain might explode. But I did it. And we got to the ground safely (although it did feel a little squirrely). Hooray!

And then Stan told me to push in the power. What? I just got on the ground, Stan. Don’t I get to enjoy it??

Nope, no time to relax. We immediately took off again doing what I know is called a “touch and go.” And then we repeated the process three more times.

What startled me most during this lesson was realizing how task saturated I felt during the landing. It makes so much sense to me now that over the last many years, Mr. T has asked me not to talk to him during the final stages of flight. I’ve always known that’s because things “get busy” and he needs to concentrate, but now I realize just how busy. Annnnd, I’m not even doing 100% of the work myself yet, or operating at a busy airport. So much to learn!

Following our full-stop landing back at Sacramento Executive, I peeled myself out of the plane feeling like I’d been lifting weights for a couple hours. Although I was much less nervous than I expected, I didn’t figure out until I was on the ground that despite Stan’s requests for me to relax, I’d been clenching every muscle for the duration of the flight. Must to be figuring out how to stop that!


More Fly Girl in Training posts:
– First time flying left seat
– Flight medical and student pilot certificate acquired

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