Aircraft: Piper PA28-161 Warrior III
Departure time: 4:30
Arrival time: 6:20
Departure airport: Grand Forks International (GFK)
Arrival airport: Grand Forks International (GFK)
IFE: I'm the friggin pilot I don't need no stinkin IFE
Last week went by in a hurry. All the "firsts" of coming to a new university compiled with the "firsts" of learning to fly. New classes, new people, new town (state, and timezone), and new experiences as well. Things are going great. With that in mind, lets begin shall we?
Back in the day I used to have a fear of flying, I knew it was what I wanted to do but for some reason me and the idea of shooting through the sky in a narrow tin can didn't go well together. Over time that went away but I must admit I was a little bit nervous that it could come back.
With all this in mind the big day finally came, and I was to take to the air for the first time. I met my instructor at GFK to brief the flight, he showed me how to do weight and balance calculations, fuel calculations, and takeoff calculations using the Piper Warrior III information handbook. The plan for the day was to take off from GFK and head up to Grafton airport and to a few landings there, as well as a few training maneuvers in practice area Mike which is above grafton. Since you'll see me referring to practice areas alot I'll go ahead and explain them now. UND has several practice areas which basically are free blocks of airspace where we can go and basically just do whatever kind of maneuvers we want (obviously within safe limits). Every practice area has it's own frequency and any aircraft in the area will be listening on that frequency, so within the practice areas everyone knows where each other is at.
We went out to preflight our plane, today's victim N245ND, built in 2001, is one of UND's oldest Piper PA28-161 Warrior III's in the fleet. We did the preflight and as everything was in order with the aircraft, we got inside and fired her up. I taxied the plane out of the Charlie apron after a quick test of the brakes, and we were soon off toward our takeoff runway, the nice expansive 35L, the largest runway at GFK. As we passed the commercial terminal, One of Northwest Airline's daily DC-9-30's was turning around to head out to the runway. After hearing "Northwest xxx taxi runway 35L caution piper warrior on the taxiway" and thinking "yeah, that's us, what now BIATCH?!!" we pulled to the hold short line to let the big guy pass and do our runup.
Following the runup, we headed out to the runway. Ahead of us was a Twin Diamond Star and the Northwest DC-9. We were planning a wake turb avoidance practice and Northwest had given us a convenient training opportunity, but unfortunately we weren't able to practice as much as after the Diamond twin took off, 2 of UND's warriors landed, so by that time most of the DC-9's wake had dispersed, and we did a normal takeoff with me at the controls and my instructor guiding me through it.
Back to that whole fear-of-flying-when-I-was-young thing. When I got up to a good altitude, I trimmed the airplane for 100kts, the day was clear and the flying was excellent, so I let go of the controls and started chewing on the scenery, while monitoring the aircraft. By now you're thinking I'm nuts, but the Piper Warrior is so stable that once you trim it to a certain airspeed, it will maintain that airspeed, meaning you won't see it begin to nose down or pitch up, and you won't see it roll off to the side. In fact of the many maneuvers we did that day, one of the things we did was pull the nose way up and let go of the stick, and the airplane oscillated back toward the trimmed airspeed. In fact, the warrior is so stable that you can throw it off and it will come back to the way you have it trimmed on it's own. It wants to fly straight and level.
We didn't have enough time through the lesson to head up to Grafton, so we decided to head back to GFK. Apparantly there's this guy out there named Kelly that has alot of things named after him. While my parents were up here, we visited Kelly's slough wildlife preserve. It turns out that our outer reporting point to head in to GFK was Kelly Tower. Basically a big radio tower that we overfly on our way back to the airport. So GFK approach wanted us to overfly the tower, I steered the plane in that direction and started heading toward the tower.
As I was about to pass over the tower, I caught an object circling above and to the left of our flight path. There, soaring just above us, was a large red-tailed hawk, riding up on a thermal. We came to maybe within 100 yards of the bird as we passed. A few seconds later, I was turning back toward the southeast toward GFK via Kelly Farm. Yeah, apparantly Kelly owns a farm too. After we passed over Kelly farm, the airport was in sight so I decended to pattern altitude and trimmed the aircraft for 90kts, the approach speed on the downwind to 35L. At that point my instructor took the controls and demonstrated a landing to me, we stopped on the runway, raised the flaps, and I took off again to go back into the pattern.
This time it was my turn, at 90kts I was established on the downwind flying perpendicular to the runway so I dropped the first notch of flaps (ten degrees). At the appropriate time, I turned to the base leg and dropped the second notch of flaps (25 degrees), when it got time, I turned to final and went flaps full, and slowed to 70kts. I was having some trouble with the crosswind so my instructor helped me out with the rudder a little bit, but I stayed fairly close to centerline and managed a nice soft touchdown on 35L. After we stopped I brought up the flaps for one last takeoff, this time for a full stop landing, so ATC gave us 35R, the smaller runway closer to UND's ramp.
This made for an interesting approach, it meant that I had to cross the 35L approach and do a longer base leg to get to 35R. I did the same basic maneuvers to get there, but the final approach leg was very... interesting. I was having some trouble with the crosswind and the smaller runway and I let the airspeed stay a little bit too high, so I came in at kind of an awkward angle. I did manage to straighten it out and pull into the flare at the right time, but again, excess airspeed meant that the airplane ballooned right back up into the air on the flare. And the stall horn went off. Me not knowing quite how to deal with this, I pushed the nose down just slightly to recover, thus gaining airspeed causing the airplane to (what, kids?) balloon. Again. Stall horn goes off. Again. At this point, I'm about ten feet off the ground and what do I do? Push the nose slightly down. Again. Lets just say the landing wasn't exactly a greaser, but the Warrior held together just fine and we taxied off the runway.
All in all, that was probably the most fun I've had in an hour and a half of my life. Learning to fly is the most fun and rewarding thing you can do.
Kissing the sky (for real)
P.S. To commemorate the occaision I'll leave with a clip from Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly"
Above the planet on a wing and a prayer,
My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air,
Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
Out of the corner of my watering eye
A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night
There's no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, A state of bliss