That Magnificient Man in His Flying Machine
by Dick Daniels
Above, Dick Daniels prepares to take his first flight at the controls of a Cessna 172
He takes off perfectly
Approaching a popular destination, Catalina Island, below, flying over Avalon on Catalina
Typical cabin panel of a Cessna 172
Above, runway at
A Cessna 172, similar to the one Daniels flew.
Approach to Catalina’s airport, on top of a mountain. A challenging, but fun, landing.
Below . . . we’re back home! On the ground after a safe, happy landing at McClellan-Palomar Airport
Geez!, I can’t do this. It’s really hard!
To say the least, it was a challenge not being able to use the “wheel” in front of me to steer. It was totally useless. Instead, I was having to use the left and right rudder pedals that I could barely see on the cockpit floor under the control panel to keep the vehicle going the right direction as we zigzagged down the taxiway before I almost forgot to step on both brake pedals to stop. Even more challenging was what the man sitting next to me then said to me over the cockpit intercom.
“You’ll actually be flying the aircraft beginning with the take off,” said James Treiger, Pinnacle Aviation Academy’s chief flight instructor.
I tapped my earphones and checked the connections to be sure I heard correctly.
Apparently, I did.
I barely got us down the taxiway with the wheels on the ground, Whaddya mean I’m going to do the takeoff?
“Just keep your eyes focused ahead and the plane lined up on the white line when you start down the runway. Hold the yoke with your left hand and pull it back when I tell you – not until then. I’m right here in case you need me, but it’s really a piece of cake.”
James had more than 2,500 hours of flight time and holds every imaginable license and rating there is, it seemed. Easy for him to say. Not so easy for me, looking at the high-tech Garmin G1000 all-glass avionics suite in front of me, trying to figure out where the speedometer and gas gauge was.
Where’s “Drive,” by the way? Never mind; bad joke.
Sitting there waiting for inbound traffic to land before rolling out, I thought back to how I ended up in the left seat of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk on the taxiway at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. I was thinking of history, recalling the Wright brothers’ first successful flight in a heavier-than-air “flying machine” more than a century ago. I’ve never been an early adopter; in this case, it’s taken me 107 years to do what Orville and Wilbur did. But I was determined to surpass the several hundred feet of the brothers’ first few flights.
How on earth did I get myself into this?
It all began a couple of months ago with an afternoon phone call from Lyle Davis, The Paper’s editor and publisher. He had been contacted by a representative of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association asking him to find somebody game enough to take a demonstration flight from Pinnacle Aviation Academy and then write an account of that adventure for publication.
“My first thought was you, my friend,” Lyle purred. “A politician with enough pluck to do this and then give me the story for my readers. Whaddya say?”
Sure, anything for you, Lyle.
Actually, I liked the idea initially only because it would be several weeks before I actually had to do it.
April came and along with it several showers and blustery winds in the days immediately preceding the scheduled flight. I grew concerned about the prospect of bouncing around in a stormy sky and even looked skyward out of my window on a stormy afternoon to see if there was anybody fool enough to be up there.
All worries came to naught. The day of the flight last Friday turned into one of the most beautiful days of the spring season. By all accounts, the sky was perfect for what was planned: a 20-minute afternoon flight, beginning at McClellan-Palomar airport, flying down the coast to the Del Mar Fairgrounds before turning back to return to the airport.
Return; how sweet the word!
Before any thought of returning, though, it was my job, under James’ supervision, to get us on our way.
He had conducted an extensive preflight of the aircraft prior to my arrival. However, that was but one check. He again checked off switches and readouts on the control panel before we turned over the engine.
James also “pre-flighted” me. What follows is a mostly accurate paraphrase.
“This isn’t going to happen but I’m obligated to give you some instructions. In the event we have to land the plane somewhere other than the airport, be sure to open your door prior to the plane coming into contact with the ground so that it won’t be jammed shut if the airframe is damaged. Exit the airplane and walk about 100 yards beyond the left wing and sit down and wait for instructions.”
Thanks for the info, but let’s not dwell on that if you don’t mind.
Later, there was the before-taxi checklist and then another review of more switches and lights than I can recount here before he said, “Dick, we’re cleared for takeoff.”
Good Lord, this is really going to happen!
In front of me, revving up to takeoff speed, was the Cessna’s four-cylinder 180-horsepower engine. That’s fewer horses than my automobile’s six-cylinder engine has.
But hey, who’s comparing?
Actually, I was. On the way to the airport, I had followed a boat trailer with an Evinrude 200-horepower outboard motor hanging over the stern. Recalling that now as I moved the plane into takeoff position, it occurred to me I needed more power in what I was about to do than some pleasure boat motoring about on a Carlsbad lagoon.
Whatever concerns I had about power quickly diminished as the plane quickly sprinted down the runway; me with one hand on the wheel (yoke) and the other near the hand throttle -- praying that my feet would keep us going straight.
At about 55 knots, James said, “Lift ‘er up,” referring to the yoke that had suddenly become critically important and on which I was resting my hand. I pulled it back and suddenly the cockpit windshield was filled with blue sky as the engine nosed the plane upward with not all that much effort.
Darn thing seems to be flying itself.
“You did it; we’re airborne,” James reassured me over the intercom. “Now, let’s head out to the ocean and make a left turn southward.”
During the ground orientation, James explained the readouts and virtual gauges of the “glass cockpit,” which is comprised of a computer-like display that replaces the gauges in older aircraft. One of the displays on that screen are vertically opposed arrows.
“Be sure when we’re flying straight without any turns that you keep those arrows lined up,” he explained.
Easier said than done. Just one more thing to do.
Actually, the plane seemed to do most of the work flying straight and normal – or I was unknowingly content to fly the craft at an angle. Unlike my earlier difficult time steering the plane on the ground with my feet, I quickly adjusted to keeping the arrows aligned.
Jeez, I wonder what happens if I push the yoke forward – ooops!
Once the plane is airborne, the yoke, hand throttle and the left and right and a couple other controls become all important in determining which direction you go and how fast you get there. I wanted to see what the plane would do when I pushed the yoke forward; I quickly found out and pulled it back as we continued to ascend to our maximum altitude of 1,500 feet.
In my preflight orientation, James also had told me that two sets of eyes are better than one and that both of us should always be looking around us for other “traffic.” No problem there; I took my eyes off the computer-like avionics screen long enough to look out the plane in all directions. No such thing as fender benders up here. Any contact with another aircraft while airborne usually doesn’t end well. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before James spotted a helicopter, northbound and safely under us by at least 1,000 feet as well as a couple of other outbound aircraft.
“Let’s decrease our altitude a couple hundred feet,” James suggested, intending, I think, to show what makes flying different than driving a car.
What he was referring to was the fact that flying, among other things, is a three-dimensional experience. Pilots not only deal with horizontal headings but vertical directions as well. All while paying close attention to Sir Isaac Newton’s principles of lift – the law that governs whether and how airplanes fly.
I pushed the yoke forward and the plane quickly slipped to a lower altitude as we continued to fly at 90-plus knots just a little offshore towards the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I was getting the hang of it and actually beginning to think that with a lot of practice and training, I just might be able to do this on my own.
Maybe some day. For now, stay humble and pay attention, fool. As we came to the fairgrounds, James told me to execute a right turn in order to come around and begin the return leg to the airport. It wasn’t the first time I had turned the aircraft in flight, I had learned a thing or two about turns a few minutes before.
For one thing, the plane doesn’t turn by simply turning the yoke. The plane has a rudder that is governed by another set of foot pedals below the brakes. Turning to the right required a combination of turning the yoke and stepping on the right rudder pedal.
Whoops, not so sharp a turn there!
When you bank the airplane into a turn, the nose turns automatically downward, since the angle of the wings now lessens the lift they produce – or something to that effect. In addition to engaging the right rudder pedal and turning the yoke, I had to pull back on the yoke in order to keep the nose up – a good application of the three-dimensional characteristics of flying an airplane.
“But not too much,” James cautioned. “When flying, treat the airplane gently like a lady. Never over-react or push or pull any control too much. Remember, the airplane is like a lady, something to be handled gently.”
As we headed back towards Carlsbad, James re-contacted the tower, indicating our position and estimated time of arrival and told me as we got closer than he would handle the landing.
That’s the best news I’ve heard since “You did it, we’re airborne.”
We began our descent as we approached the airfield that I, quite frankly, had not spotted yet.
“Where are we fixin’ to land?” – using a Texas colloquialism, “Over there at about 11 o’clock,” James replied. The instructor decreased power as we continued to descend and line up with the landing strip that I now had in view.
Trouble was, I also thought I could actually see the propeller blades, the rpms had been reduced that much. We were pretty much coming in with the engine at idle. James had engaged the flaps to allow us to maintain airworthiness at a much slower speed, but it was as if we were hanging over the ground and not moving forward as fast as I wanted to.
“Remember, this plane has tremendous gliding characteristics, it doesn’t need that much power at this stage of the flight. We need to decrease our speed to about 60 knots as we touch down,” James reassured me. “Don’t worry about the prop; both it and we’re just fine.”
Yea, but I swear I can see the blades almost at a standstill.
The wheels hit the pavement nice and easy without as much a squeak or squeal and the plane rolled to an easy stop near where we were to park it.
Airplanes, obviously can’t back up by themselves and aren’t all that easy to maneuver into specific positions. And so the high-tech world of glass cockpit avionics and state-of-the-art engines soon gave way to low-tech grunt work as James, myself and an airport employee quickly pushed N497TC by hand into its parking position. We had completed my first demonstration flight.
Learning to fly is something that maybe I’d like to do some day. Not ready now, but it might be fun to become one of 60 and 70 aspiring flyers who are learning to fly at any given time under James Treiber and his team of certified flight instructors at Pinnacle Aviation Academy at McClellan-Palomar Airport. Anyone else interested can check it out at www.pinnacleacademy.com.
Sure, it’s a commitment of time and finances, but you only go around once and why not take part of the trip airborne. It’s worth a thought.
Dick Daniels is Mayor Pro Tem of Escondido and a former newspaper reporter and editor.