You’re in the Air

Post flight, N8866S sits on the tarmac at Greenville Airport. (Photo by Scott Allen)
Post flight, N8866S sits on the tarmac at Greenville Airport. (Photo by Scott Allen)

I flew my first flight in 22 and a-half years on Monday morning, January 19.

I met my instructor, Tammy, at Greenville Airport in Greenville, IL about 8 a.m. We sat down across from each other and discussed the plan for the day. Temperatures were in the 30s on their way to the 50s for a high. The sky was a gorgeous blue without any clouds. A Midwestern winter is very unpredictable at times, you just never know what you’re going to get, but this was a perfect day to fly.

Tammy had reserved the airplane, a Cessna 150 – N8866S, and arranged to have it fueled the night before then placed in the heated hangar to avoid a need to pre-heat the airplane in the morning.

She guided me through the pre-start checklist as we performed the pre-flight inspection together. As we walked around checking the condition of this nearly 50 year old rental plane, I used a checklist created specifically for the aircraft – a good idea for any bird rather than using the basic one located in the owner’s manual.

Next, we lifted the hangar door. The cold January air rushed into the heated hangar. After a check of clearances around the aircraft we pulled the plane out onto the asphalt between the rows of hangars careful to position it with enough space to start and taxi easily.

We both climbed in the plane, closed the doors and opened the windows. Seated side by side, we adjusted our seats and fastened our seat belts. Be assured – this is not an easy process in a two seater. Tammy had to help me with my seatbelt as I wasn’t accustomed to using a five-point harness. Once we were safely fastened in it was time for headsets. We mic checked the levels so we could clearly hear each other. Finally, we were ready to begin the fun part of the lesson.

I held my toes on the brakes and with the window still open I emphatically said, “CLEAR” and pulled the starter with my left hand while my right hand was on the throttle as a precaution. Once the engine roared to life, we went over a few post start items and verified the engine had oil pressure and all instruments were functioning normally. I set the altimeter and tuned the radio to 123.05. We clicked the mic button three times to listen to the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) to get the weather report.

Now it was time to move! She had me taxi the airplane out to the runway. This felt different after so many years of driving a car with my hands. On the ground a pilot steers the plane to the runway from the tarmac with their feet on the rudder pedals and gives it gas with throttle with their right hand; backwards from how you drive a car. Therefore, the sensation of the aircraft not responding to left and right when I instinctively moved the yoke was odd and I felt nervous. Also, using the rudder pedals does not illicit a quick response from the aircraft. The movement is slow and laborious as the actions take a moment to catch up to the inputs. If anyone were watching I’m sure my path to the runway was far from straight and resembled a drunk walking home from the local bar.

Greenville Airport consists of a paved main runway running north and south (18-36) and a secondary grass runway running east and west (9-27). The airport is located a few miles south of town in a wide-open flat plain surrounded by farm fields with little to no obstructions. On this pristine day a slight wind was out of the northeast necessitating a takeoff to the north on runway 36.

I want the stars to know they’ve won if only to beguile
The sky has opened up again in heavens reconciled
I want you naked, I want you wild, I want the stars to know they win
Give me that smile, just give it me, just turn it on, I’m lost again

“You’re in the Air” – R.E.M.

Poets have sacrificed many lines of poetry about the feeling of lifting off the ground in an airplane. I don’t need to give you an example. But, I will say that my first take off in over 20 years had me both nervous and excited at the same time. The feeling of what it’s like to push the throttle forward, let the plane roll, accelerate to speed and finally pull back on the yoke to lift off the runway was a thrill. However, my nervousness fell away as I was happier that I wasn’t meandering down the runway while trying to keep the aircraft on the centerline and not overcompensate with the rudder pedals. But, I told myself that this takeoff didn’t have to be perfect. Well, not yet anyway.

Once we got airborne I was instructed to stay on a heading straight out and climb to 2000 feet on the altimeter or about 1,500 feet off the ground as the airport is 540 feet above sea level. We spent just over an hour in the air flying the airplane straight and level, working on climbing and descending turns, rectangular ground reference work, pattern work, slips, and take offs and landings. In the sky my nervousness disappeared. I felt I was quite comfortable with the maneuvers in the air, which raised my confidence level.

Many of the motions and procedures came back to me very naturally during this initial flight. One thing I did have to get used to was the electric switch on the panel for flaps. The Cessna 150 I had learned to fly over 20 years ago was from the original model year, 1959. N5659E had the flaps located on the floor between the pilot and the passenger. The pilot pulls up on a handle – much like an emergency brake on a car – to add each notch of flaps. But, by 1966 and the model 150F, Cessna located the flaps on the panel in front of the passenger. If you hold the switch down for about 3 seconds the flaps notch down 10%. Repeat for more flaps or reverse for less flaps.

Obviously, my landings needed work. It’s been a while. But, I made it down to earth each time and they will improve with more practice. Besides speed, holding off on the flare was my biggest issue. My final approaches were good and I felt comfortable making necessary decisions to get the aircraft on the runway.

During our post-flight conversation, Tammy mentioned that I needed to watch my airspeed on the base leg of the pattern and final approach, as I was a little slow. Next time I will do the talking on the radio, but since today was my first time back in the left seat in a long time she agreed to do the talking to Greenville traffic on the radio. Also, I have to remember to keep my hand on the throttle at all times. She must have told me 15 to 20 times during the flight. This is just a bad habit that you get into with years of driving. Finally, she wants me to maintain a light touch with the wheel, but I at least I remembered to use the elevator trim so that did help me from holding the yoke with a ‘death grip.’

Thankfully for me, there was no traffic in the immediate area during our flight except for the migratory geese around Carlyle Lake and a large flock of smaller birds west of the airport.

Next time, we are going to work on more pattern work, takeoffs and landings + crosswind, emergency procedures, and slow flight and stalls.

It’s an absolutely exhilarating feeling to be back in the air again!

I’m what you found, I’m upside down
You’re in the air
I’m what you found, I’m upside down
You’re everywhere, you’re in the air and I am breathing you

“You’re in the Air” – R.E.M.

Soundtrack: You’re in the Air – R.E.M.