On Final: Learning to Fly Again

On Final: Learning to Fly Again

1. Single engine airplanes can be dangerous. They have tiny engines that fail for no good reason. Their electrical systems fry themselves leaving no backup power. Pilots fly them into buildings, mountains, and TV towers seemingly every day.

2. Patty and I are traveling to Australia and renting a Cessna 182 to fly around the country.

3. What the hell am I thinking?

These and other thoughts raced through my mind when I agreed to Citation owner and friend Kirk Samuelson’s idea to take a flying adventure halfway around the world. It was crazy but somehow intriguing. Forget the fact that I had never flown a Cessna 182, and hadn’t flown any single-engine airplane as PIC in over 40 years.

But I was hooked.

For the past 30 years, all my piloting has been in jets. Flying jets in the IFR environment spoils you. Controllers lead you just about every step of the way. Learn the rules, and you can get from point A to B easily. There are just lots of rules. Ask a new private pilot what he or she thinks about us jet jocks and they are usually in awe. It’s really the other way around.

I was going to have to learn how to fly all over again.

I found a local flight school with a fleet of 172’s and a 182, all Garmin G1000 equipped. Their chief pilot was 10 years younger than my son. He assigned me to instructor Jeff Wallach and said I would enjoy him because he was “close to my age.” It turns out that Jeff had completed a successful business career and just wanted to fly little airplanes and teach. For the past six years, he has done just that, flying clockwise and counter clockwise around the pattern. He made it look simple.

It is not simple.

Little airplanes don’t just go where you point them. You actually have to fly them there. I am not certain, but I think it has something to do with the wind. Jeff said so, too. Over and over and over again. They also have what is called a “rudder.” I had to re-learn what the rudder does. In a jet, I use the rudder about twice a year during the engine-out part of my 61.58 check ride. In the 182, the rudder is your best friend or worst enemy. And although little airplanes have autopilots just as capable as in the jets I fly, you don’t use them much in the pattern. I also found out that in a strong crosswind, controlling a 182 is more like flying a kite.

Most of my kites wound up in trees.

“Dave, as you reduce power over the threshold, look down the runway and continue that backpressure,” said Jeff.

“Where down the runway?” I quizzed.

BANG! We landed hard on the nose. “Let’s try that again,” Jeff suggested. And over and over we did. Steep turns. Short approaches. Emergency landings. Slow flight at 60 knots.

“Won’t we just die at 60 knots?” I yelled.

“It’s OK Dave, scores of men have flown at 60 knots before you and lived to tell about it,” Jeff assured. Many lessons ensued with slight improvement.

After every flight, I walked through the FBO and watched all the teenage pilots talk about me and my lack of skills. “Go ahead and laugh,” I mused. “I was going to buy you kids a case of beer.”

But not now.

Fly safe.

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