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Little Lightbulb Lessons

The Past Week

Well, I got to test out my IMSAFE checklist the week before this lesson:

  • I - Illness

    Am I sick?

  • M - Medicine

    Am I taking any medicines that might affect my judgment or make me drowsy?

  • S - Stress

    Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Worried about financial matters, health problems, or family discord?

  • A - Alcohol

    Have I been drinking within the past 8 hours? Within 24 hours?

  • F - Fatigue

    Am I tired and not adequately rested?

  • E - Eating/Emotion

    Have I eaten/am I sufficiently nourished? Am I emotionally upset?

I only got 1/6th of the way down the checklist and failed. I went whitewater rafting, paintballing, and camping for a friend’s birthday this weekend (GUY WEEKEND!), and fully overexerted myself. I half-strained a hamstring, and then a day later, my entire lower back seized up with a spasm. And guess what we had all week, of course? BEAUTIFUL WEATHER. It pained me so much to cancel my lessons. Literally, it hurt to lean over and pick up my cell phone to call the CFI and cancel (*rimshot* I’ll be here all week, folks! Tip your waitresses!). I am beginning to understand what a powerful thing get-there-itis is, and I didn’t even have anywhere to get to! I am so driven to get my pilot’s license, so I have to stay on guard for any bad decision-making driven by that. This decision was fairly easy, as I couldn’t even get out of bed for a day or two, much less fold myself into that damn Cessna 152.

The Lesson

After a week-long recovery, this lesson was all about preparation for solo trips to practice area. My CFI wanted me to prove I could make it out there and back solo. He told me to fly him to the practice area and back; he wouldn’t say anything enroute unless he needed to.


This is a good time to mention that I have switched training aircraft. The flight school has two Cessna 152s, and I had been flying in N65605, a beautiful little blue and white plane. Well, a student with better planning skills than me jumped on the website and booked 605 for the rest of the summer, on 2 of the 3 days every week when I can fly. I discussed it with my instructor, we looked at the schedule, and figured out that I could book 757AD (the school’s red and white Cessna 152) for the rest of the summer. It’s essentially the same airplane, but their are some key differences on the inside, like a different transponder.

After takeoff, I headed toward the south practice area, then called New York Approach and picked up flight following. They give you a transponder code so they can track you on their radar screens. Remember how I mentioned the transponder was different in 7AD? It is THE WORST; the dial that changes the numbers is super finicky, and the screen isn’t backlit so it’s almost impossible to see anything on it.

Unusual Attitudes

Enough of the complaining, though… The major item for today’s lesson was an introduction to unusual attitudes, and it was complete insanity! My instructor let me keep my eyes open in the beginning so he could show me how quickly things can devolve. He started a steep turn but didn’t pull back to hold the nose of the airplane up (like one normally does in a turn), and our turn transitioned into a scary spiraling dive SO FAST. He walked me through the recovery procedure: power off, level the wings, pull out. The G forces and speed (even the much louder whooshing sound of the outside air) were surprising. He showed me how to recover from an accidental nose-high attitude also before we moved on to actual practice.

First, he had me close my eyes and lower my head as he went through all sorts of turns, climbs, and dives to physically disorient me. Then I had to open my eyes, assess the situation, and quickly recover.

I am SO glad he demonstrated everything before we practiced. I think I would have totally panicked otherwise. It was such a great lesson, though. In general, these airplanes are incredibly stable and want to fly. But you do have to pay attention or things can get away from you. For example, during the flight out to the practice area, while changing the code on the frustrating transponder, I let my pitch attitude deviate a little bit. When I looked up from the instrument panel, we were in a slow descent. It wasn’t too bad, but it happened really fast. The pitch, speed, and altitude changes were slight enough that I didn’t feel anything, and we ended up descending a bit without me even noticing.

I love these little bits of serendipity. During my training, things like this have seemed to happen just when I needed them to. I’ve had lots of fun little lightbulb moments that bring together what I’ve been reading, what my instructor has been telling me, and what I’ve been experiencing.

Up Next

We finished up by practicing some steep turns before my instructor asked me to take him back to the airport. He said I am ready to go to the practice area solo, where I can practice slow flight, power off stalls, and steep turns. So during our next flight, I might take him out to the practice area and back, then repeat the trip solo.

He is also sending me some info so I can start studying cross-country planning, which means cross-country flights are coming up soon! I am super excited to actually GO somewhere! It was such a beautiful evening up there tonight: super smooth with no haze, and you could see the city really well. During the down time between maneuvers, I looked around and tried to really soak it in.

My learning pace has been so frantic that I need to remind myself of the magic of this whole endeavor. Starting cross-countries means I’m entering a new phase of flight training, and getting close to the ultimate goal: sharing this incredible experience with the ones I love. That image in my mind – of cruising through a gorgeous skies on a relaxing trip to Block Island or Montauk with fiancee and friends – is what keeps me going.