On November the 3rd I took my first flight in a small aircraft. Specifically it was in a Cessna 180 tail-dragger from the mid 1950s in beautiful condition with new upholstery and a traditional avionics setup with steam gagues and dials.
The day was overcast and cool but with very little wind and a cloud ceiling of about 3000 feet. When I woke up I looked outside I was worried the flight would be canceled but was quickly set at ease after a call to my friend Chris. With the clouds as high as they were they didn’t pose a problem at all and the forecast didn’t show any rain so we were still all set to go.
I arrived at the location where I was meeting up with Chris and we drove the mile or two out to the field we would fly from. As I discovered, we flew out of a farmers field not far from my house. It’s called Coles Field and is registered as 06NH. More information about the field can be found in various places but I found this site (AvnWx.com) to have most of the relevant info. It’s a private field that you would need to ask permission to land on I gather but there were perhaps a dozen planes there of various makes and models and the owner is an older gentlemen who seems to have a deep knowledge of aircraft and how to get them flying.
When I arrived with my friend Chris we found the owner of the plane we were to fly having some trouble getting an engine warmer started. It was a strange looking device that seemed to be a blower with a propane tank hooked up and required a strange process of knobs, switches, and circumstance to get burning. We were able to get the owner of the field to give us a hand and in few minutes we had a warm engine that started right up.
In the time before we got the blower going the owner of the plane, Dave, took the time to show me the process he performed to pre-flight the aircraft. He patently explained all of the parts he was checking and what he was looking for; Wear on these bearings, cotter pins in those holes ect. and graciously answered all of my questions. I was trying to identify certain parts of the plane to relate them to all of the reading I have been doing and he, and my friend Chris, were more then willing to explain to me anything I asked and point out anything I was looking for. It was extremely helpful.
Once Dave got the plane running Chris and I dashed around behind and climbed in the passenger side. A Cessna 180 is a small aircraft with two front and two rear seats. Dave, of course, flew from the left seat and Chris, who is also a pilot, sat in the back, allowing me to sit in the right front seat. She knew that this was my first flight in a small aircraft and that I was interested in becoming a pilot myself so she allowed me the second best seat in the plane (second only to the left pilot seat, of course). Little did I know that it would be not only my first flight in a small plane but also my first time flying a small plane!
Chris, it seems, had done some leg work getting ready for the day and what I thought was a chance for me to get up and in the air turned out to be a sort of introductory flight for me. I assumed I’d go, sit in the plane and look around but She had spoken with Dave and told about my plans to become a pilot and asked him if he would show me the ropes a little bit.
Now, let me add that I don’t know if Dave is a flight instructor or not. I know that he has a lot of hours under his belt though and certainly well qualified to show me a around a bit. He was a airline pilot before he retired and was the pilot who made a belly landing due to failed landing gear at Chicago’s O’Hare back in 1988. As I mentioned before he was in the left Pilot seat and was the ‘Pilot in Command’ for the flight. He also flew all of the skill based maneuvers such as take off and landing but once we were at altitude and the plane was trimmed up and basically flying itself he allowed me to take the yoke.
Before that point though Chris asked him to show me some things in the plane and we overflew some local landmarks such as my house, the high school, our local church ect. Once that was done he even showed me a couple of stalls, which was an amazing feeling. Stalling, unlike in car, does not necessarily mean the engine has stopped. When you stall an airplane it simply means the plane stops ‘flying’ for any one of various reasons. Specifically Dave showed me a couple power on stalls where you climb the plane at very low power until you run out of speed. When that happens one wing will stall before the other and can cause the plane to bank left or right in the direction of the stalled wing. When that happens you simply have to add power and dip the nose slightly to recover and counter act the plans tendency to bank to one side. It’s something you are taught when you are training so that if it happens accidentally, due to an actual engine problem or pilot error, you know what to do to recover. I of course only provide here a very basic description. Dave did a wonderful job with the stalls and I never for a second felt like he didn’t have complete control over the plane. He was like a machine. The stall horns sounds just before the stall happens and then, boom, he performed a rapid serious of maneuvers so swiftly and confidently I’m sure he could have done it in his sleep. Truly great flying and all the while he and Chris are talking about what is happening, what is about to happen and what he will do to counter act it.
Once that fun was over and the plane was back at cruise speed and flying straight he allowed me to take the controls. He directed me to bank left toward the ocean and then we flew south down the coast a good way. I stayed close to the coast line as we curved out to Gloucester, Mass and Beverly and then I turned back to the right to head back north to our airport. As we approached the airfield area he took back the controls and executed what I thought was a great landing that would require no excuses for the field. He didn’t seem as impressed as I was but we touched down on the grass gently with no bounce. Was hard to figure out when he actually touched down.
We then pushed the plane back into the hanger and not two minutes later it started pouring down rain. Perfect timing. Earlier in the flight when I turned the plane around over the coast Chris pointed out a wall of clouds that was approaching our airfield and we arrived just before the clouds did.
I had a grin on my face for so long during and after the flight that my face was sore at the end of the day. After the flight Chris and I grabbed some lunch and chatted about the trip and flying for way way too long. I was having far too much fun.
All in all, one of the best days of my life, which is more amazing considering I worked that afternoon…
I can’t thank Chris and Dave enough for their kindness and I hope to do it again as soon as is possible. The pictures in this post were provided by Chris. You will see Dave in the left seat and me in the right (I need a haircut.. badly). I brought my camera with me but I never took it out of the bag. I managed a few iPhone shots before we left, including the one of Chris turning the prop at the top of the post but once we were in the air I didn’t think twice of taking pictures. It was a pretty clouding day anyway though so Chris was easily able to capture all there was to see. Honestly though, I’m note sure I’d have been able to hold onto an SLR in the front seat. With the yoke right there you don’t want to do anything that might limit how far back you can pull it…