The weather was beautiful (as usual for the Bay Area in July), clear, sunny and warm. I arrived 30 minutes early (eager to do it, afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the school). My instructor turned out to be a girl from Co. Mayo in Ireland called Grainne Gilvarry (which was a surprise as I am also from Ireland, small world, my brother lives in Mayo). We spent about 15minutes looking at a map of California that showed all the airports with the various types of airspace (Class B, C, D etc) and talking about flying South of the airport to try some simple stuff. Then it was out to the tarmac to a rather worn looking small plane (which I now know is a Cessna 172). Grainne walked me through the preflight checks which to my regret was not just kicking the tires. We got some fuel from the nice tanker guy and then got ready to go. At this point I was actually sitting in the pilots seat in this dinky little airplane trying not to touch anything. Grainne was starting the engine and listing to someone called ATIS. Then before I knew it we were on the end of the runway (13R I know from FS2002) and we were off. Before we were very far into the air (it seemed to me) Grainne says “your airplane” and I actually started to fly the thing (badly). The air was bumpy and it seemed that the plane wanted to go anywhere but smoothly upwards (like in FS2002). I managed to keep it flying more or less in the right direction (I think because I stopped moving the yoke). And then things calmed down because we got a little higher. We flew south a few miles to over Morgan Hill and did a few simple turns, which felt much more like the simulator. A couple of 360’s, a descent, a climbing turn then headed back towards Reid-Hillview. Grainne, told me to just aim the plane at Lake Cunningham which is just East of the airport. A couple of miles away we started to descend again and then Grainne took over as we flew over the lake. We watched for the runway to move to 45° behind my left shoulder, turned left, turned left again and as if by magic the runway was right in front of us. We landed and taxied off the end of 13L at which point Grainne asked me to steer the plane with my feet. I think she had been secretly working the rudder when I was flying because I sure wasn’t – FS2002 has an auto-rudder feature, real planes have a flight instructor. Now, rudder peddles work exactly the opposite way you expect them to. Imagine the front wheel has handle bars and you rest one foot on each side and steer – this is the way it doesn’t work, its opposite. It is stupidly simple (press the left peddle to go left, right for right, duh!) and completely non-intuitive. Needless to say I did a great impression of a fish swimming upstream, weaving from side to side up the taxi way. We (finally) got to our parking space and parked the plane and locked it up. My first flight for real – what a rush, wait wasn’t I supposed to look outside the windows. Mostly I remember being glued to the instruments. Next time I’ll look outside more.
Around 1993 I lived in Sacramento with three other Irish guys. One of our addictions (among many) was flying Chuck Yeager’s Flight Trainer on my Apple Mac. At the time I swore that once I got settled down I would learn to fly for real. I forgot this until recently when I was watching of all things a TV program about safety issues in General Aviation. Lots of stories about people in small planes getting killed. Perversely this reminded me of my promise to myself back in Sacramento. Just to be sure the bug was still there, I bought MS Flight Simulator 2002 (and boy had flight simulators changed in 9 years!). The fun of actually flying over the Bay Area in the simulator, landing in San Jose International and various other airports in the area convinced me I had to go do this for real. I searched on the web to find a flight school that operated out of Reid-Hillview Airport. This is a small controlled airport in East San Jose that I had seen a lot of small airplanes flying around. I didn’t want to fly out of San Jose International because I would rather not have to contend with commercial jets while I was trying to learn. I found a company called Tradewinds Aviation that offered a cheap demo flight for $99. I told my friends I was going to start flying (they didn’t believe me) and on Friday evening after I got home from work I called Tradewinds and as luck would have it they had a slot available at 12pm the next day. This is a log of how my training went/will go/whatever, I read a few of these on the web and thought what a cool idea.