Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Birthday Present - I laughed, I cried, I almost puked!

I went and had my Acrobatic Flight Lesson today.

In a word - Wahoo!

The first thing to do was to make sure I could get into and out of the airplane. Yeah - you laugh. These are not big planes, and putting my 6'4" lumberjack frame into a 2-seater Citabria took a bit of contortion.

Good news is that I didn't break the plane. Before Nava gave me the gift, we had WebbieM and CessnyZ, (who owns the flight school I had my Acrobat Lesson at) over for dinner, and Nava tried to nudge the conversation over to flying in small planes. So I jumped in and told the tales of the small planes that are worse for wear after I was in them.

Now that we know I can get into the airplane, question is can I get back out. Why? Why not just go up, and worry about getting out later? Well, there's a few things to do first - pre-flight checklist, check the gas, put on the parachute... Someone said parachute? Jheez I gotta read the info on these things and not just show up - and lunch may have been a bad idea. First time I've ever put on a parachute. You laughed at me trying to get into the airplane? Took 2 tries to find a seat parachute that would fit me.

So - gas topped off, pre-flight checklist done, seat cushions out of the plane, parachute in. Seat cushions out? Yep - it's a lumberjack rule. The CLAA (Canadian Lumberjack Aviation Authority) says you get either a seat cushion or a parachute. CessnyZ (who'll I'll just call 'Z' from now on) recommends the parachute, so I go with the parachute. :)

But seriously - the plane wasn't big enough for me, the parachute, and the seat cushions. Guess I could have sent the parachute up on the seat cushion and stayed on the ground, but what's the point in that? So - Z carefully arranges my parachute across the seat, so that once I'm in, we can find all the straps and put it on. Climb in - almost gracefully this time (OK- not gracefully, but nothing broke, which is close enough), strap on the parachute and the seat harness (you're doing rolls and loops, so no whimpy seat-belt, but a full 4 point harness), and get ready to go.

Oh - and by this point, I've found out that it's a "Acrobat Flight Lesson", not "Acrobat Flight Tour". What's the difference? Tour means I go along, Lesson means I get to do a bunch of the flying. That Jalapeno Cheeseburger I had for lunch is sounding worse and worse!

Z let's me drive the plane down the taxi way, to get a feel for the rudders. Wow - makes me really appreciate power steering! Every time I fly commercial now, and we taxi forever to / from the gate, I'll laugh at those girly-men who use hydraulics for this, instead of raw muscles. Cause you know that if they actually had to do it by strength, there's no way you'd taxi that long commercially! Ok - I laugh at them, but I almost smacked into 2 buildings so I won't be boasting about my taxi-ing skills either.

Oh - forgot to point out one thing. 2 seater plane - me in front, Z in the back. 2 sticks, 2 sets of rudder pedals. But pretty much 1 set of instruments up front, which my large noggin hides from Z. Now, he's flown these planes so much, I'm sure he can do it by feel / sound, but it is a bit odd to be the one with all the info!

Take-off - I always love take-offs in a small plane. Always more fun than in a big plane, and when you're in the front seat, 1000x more so. Being the only person in the front really makes it impressive, until you remember that it's Z is doing the flying, not your mental telepathy. This little plane doesn't so much take-off as once you get going fast enough, you just stop rolling on the ground and start flying - smooth and fun.

A few seconds later and Z does a turn or two, and shows the difference between doing a turn with only the stick (flaps), and using the rudder as well. And then it's my turn! OK- smooth would not be my first description, but I didn't stall out the plane, anything like that. After a couple of more tries, I was even not total crap!

Now that my head's a bit swollen, and Z can't see anything out the wind-shield, it's time for some more basic physics, and stalls. Nose up until the plane is just about to stall, and starts to shudder, then nose down to recover speed / come out of it. Simple enough - my turn. Doh - you want me to try to make the plane switch from "flying mode" to "falling mode"? OK- didn't seem that bad when Z did it, so I give it a try, being a firm believer in physics and design (if you just start to stall, it shouldn't take too much to come out of it, and if you're flying straight / wings level going up, you should switch to straight / wings level going down).

Wahoo - it works. After a third time, and I'm a firm believer in physics, and giving up my brief thoughts of giving up agnosticism and hoping there was a God that would save me should I screw up.

Next up - the Loop. Z explains that if we have enough speed, instead of stalling, we'll just keep on going right over the top, and back down the other side. And pull ~3Gs on the way. Again, Z does an example. Wah - 3Gs does press you down into the seat hard, but Wahoo it's fun to go over the top.

And yep, I got the chance to do it. Nose down - accelerate to 130, then stick back hard, until the accelerometer shows 3Gs, then back off the stick and let it complete the half circle, and start heading down. Dive until you get to 3Gs, back-off and you're flying level, in the same spot you started off in.

The Roll - stick hard over (left in this case) until the plane has gone 360deg around left-to-right. That's fun to, and with the Loop under the belt, not as intimidating. But tougher on the stomach. After a couple / three of them, I was getting a bit air-sick.

I didn't take Dramamine or anything like that on the way - I haven't gotten motion sick in over 10 years, and figured no worries - my stomach and take anything. Well, I was wrong about that!
No - I didn't get totally green and loose that Jalapeno Cheeseburger over Z's nice airplane. I told him I was getting a bit queasy, so we just did some flight-seeing for 5-10 minutes, until it had calmed down a bit. Had some cold sweat on the back on my neck, so I knew I wasn't going to get to 100%, but figured we should try the next one.

Which is called the Hammerhead. Starts like a loop - do the ~quarter loop, but keep going straight up until you stop climbing. The plane then pivots over, and heads straight back down. Wah - 3Gs and the queasies! Lots of fun, but definitely green now! Z askes if I want to try, and the short answer from the stomach was "No!" So I let Z know why, and we do a nice lazy turn back to the direction of the airport (RHV), and land ~10 minutes later.

On the 10 point scale for fun - 9. Probably take Dramamine next time though, so that it could be a 10!