Nervous? Incredibly! Today would be my first time back in a plane in over a year. Not only that, I’m also flying a much larger plane, a Cessna 172, which is a big step up from the little C150 I’ve been used to.
Getting my flight bag together that morning, the nerves really started to set in. I haven’t had to do this for the longest time. I went through the essentials in my head a million times; headset, kneeboard, checklist, GoPros. After a final check of the bag, off I trotted to Archerfield.
On the way to the flying school, the forecast states overcast at 3800 feet and wind 120 at 10 knots. Not too bad considering the plan is to head out to the training area then return to Archerfield for some circuits.
On arrival at Gil Layt’s Flying School, Robert advised we’ll be flying in Gil’s VH-BGX, a nice 1981 C172P as the usual C172, VH-TKJ, is in the shop for restorations and the loan plane VH-HWC is out of action due to a faulty radio. The news that we’d be flying BGX threw me a little as I’d been practicing my radio calls for TKJ and HWC – Bravo Golf X-Ray doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue too naturally.
After a quick chat about the game plan and differences to expect in the aircraft, we headed out to the apron. On the way past, I said a quick “g’day” to my old friends, VH-JOO and VH-UGF. I haven’t had much to do with C172s so standing next to one for the first time was definitely a memorable moment. Initially, the size difference is what stands out the most. Everything about the plane is bigger than what I’m used to and cracking the door for the first time, displayed a large roomy cockpit (compared to the C150). As there are a couple of differences, Robert gave me a quick rundown on the external preflight checks.
We jumped aboard BGX and Robert helped me to find my way around the bigger slightly different layout of the dash and controls. I know it sounds silly since the C172 is still a small aircraft, but sitting in front of the controls of the plane made me feel like a real pilot. Even the trim wheel feels like something you would find in much larger aircraft. The step up is definitely a defining moment in my training.
After getting strapped in and set up, I went through the old preflight checklist and then made my radio call to taxi. I was surprised how much I actually remembered. It’s kind of like riding a bike; you never really forget. Once moving, it was amazing how similar the C172 is to the C150, it’s just bigger and the controls feel a fair bit heavier. Initially I struggled to keep it on the centreline while taxiing, though I soon worked out the weight of the rudder pedals and all was good. At the run-up bay, nothing was unusual apart from the use of the transponder. For those of you who don’t know, a transponder is primarily used to identify aircraft on air traffic control (ATC) radar. This means that ATC now know what I’m doing at all times that I’m squawking. Scary stuff.
With clearance to take off, I entered the runway. The excitement within me began building and any fear I once had now dissipated. Feet low on the pedals and a couple of deep breaths in, I gently pushed the throttle to full and off we went. Staring down the dotted white centreline as the speed increases, slight back pressure on the controls and the ground starts disappearing below me. An amazing feeling to be back in the air. I’m home! Off to the training area we go!
A right turn on to cross-wind and then track 135° (or aim for the bumpy mountains), Robert took us out past the newly constructed Yarrabilba to revise some advanced manoeuvres and get a feel for the aircraft. We started with steep turns and I don’t think I did too badly. It all came flooding back to me and I performed a few ‘better than OK’ turns. Robert seemed content so we moved on to stalls. These were fairly ordinary and required a fair bit of instruction from Robert. I seemed to over compensate for the wing drop and would lose quite a bit of altitude. After a few attempts, they started to improve. I wasn’t being tested though, it was more just to get a feel for the aircraft and how it reacts to unusual attitudes. I have to say, the C172 feels a lot more stable in the air and is a lot easier to manoeuvre. I know that statement totally contradicts itself, though that’s the easiest way to explain it.
We headed back to Archerfield via Park Ridge. I was really surprised how quickly the calls came back to me. I didn’t really have any issues other than nearly saying JOO a few times instead of BGX. I was initially concerned that I would have issues navigating back to Archerfield, though again, once in the air, it just all fell into place. It all just felt familiar and like I hadn’t had any time off at all. On arrival at Archerfield, we requested to do some circuits. Robert took control on the base leg to show me a landing in the C172, as usual, his landing was text book perfect and it was now all up to me. Shadowing Robert on the controls really helped to give me an idea of when to level out and the amount of back pressure required on the flare. After touching down, Robert handed the controls over to me so I could take off and try a landing for myself.
Before flying, we decided to break up the lesson to allow me to rest a little between advanced manoeuvres and an hour of circuits. It does get a little mentally draining doing circuit after circuit and you really need to be alert, so we decided that for the sake of an extra landing fee, it would be best for me to have a rest and re-gather.
After about a 20 minute rest, we got back in the air for an hour or so of circuits. Initially, my landings were a little ‘how’s ya father’, though they did start to improve.
The biggest difference between the C150 and the C172, apart from a fist-full of power, is the attitude required on take-off, climb and cruise. The C150 has a high nose that makes it sometimes difficult to see over, however the front cowling on the C172 seems to drop away giving a completely different view out the front windscreen. In the climb out, the attitude seems really flat compared to what’s required for the C150. It took me a few take-offs to stop forcing the plane to fly and instead letting it fly itself off the ground.
It’s always good to see my family waving frantically at the perimeter fence as I fly over. It really does help having support from your family and friends when undertaking something as huge as learning to fly.
After about 10 circuits, we called a full stop, landed and headed back to the apron. It was an interesting day that I enjoyed thoroughly. It felt great to be back in the air and back into my training. Next week I start my navigation training and really could not be more excited. The first nav. will be to Maryborough. Can’t wait!