Lesson 2 – Straight and level

A couple of months had passed since my first lesson, whilst I was saving up money for my PPL course. As my trial lesson was in June, and it was now September with the terrible British Winter approaching, I was in two minds whether to wait until Spring or to start straight away. My head was telling me to be patient – wait until next year with the better weather – but my heart was having none of it. I had to start as soon as possible.

I called up my instructor from my first lesson and told him I was ready to start my PPL. He booked me in for next weekend and I only had 7 days to wait until I next got to fly.

This time, as you’d expect, the pre-flight briefing was considerably longer than my trial lesson. We talked in more detail about the control surfaces of the plane, and how I’d be learning to fly straight and level. Straight means that you’re heading in the right direction and not veering off from side to side, whilst level (I’d be worried if you couldn’t already guess this) means you’re flying at the same altitude – you’re not going up or down.

I was also introduced to the FREDA checks, which I’d need to get in to the habit of doing every 20 minutes or so we’re in the air:

  • Fuel – do we have enough fuel? Are we using fuel from the fullest tank?
  • Radio – is it tuned and operating correctly? is the transponder set correctly?
  • Engine – are the engine gauges in the green?
  • Direction – is the direction indicator aligned with the compass?
  • Altitude – is the altimeter set to the correct QFE/QNH (we’ll come on to what that means later..)

We walked out to the plane – still the Piper Warrior PA28, but a different plane to last time (this one was blue!). I soon noticed that some of the instruments that were in the previous plane weren’t in this one (the other plane had a moving map) and that the instruments inside the cockpit were in different places. After a couple minutes of reorientation, we were taxying to the fuel pumps. Filling up a plane is not much different to filling up your car – except there are two tanks (one in each wing) and before filling you must ground the plane by connecting a long wire cable to the static discharge point of the plane (beneath the tail in the Warrior).

My instructor pointed out that the Piper is an American plane, so the stickers on the fuel tank, the instructions in the pilot operating handbook (the manual) and the instruments were all measuring in US Gallons. The Warrior burns approximately 10 US gallons per hour, and has a usable capacity of 50 US gallons, giving a maximum flight time of around 5 hours. The fuel pumps measure in litres. US Gallons are different to Imperial Gallons. When we come on to learn about maximum take off weights (of which fuel is a vital component), calculations are made in pounds. You can see the potential for confusion and dangerous miscalculations.

After filling up, we taxyed to the runway and I performed my first take-off. The full power of the propeller causes the plane to drift to the left, so to keep the plane straight on the runway you need to apply right rudder. Speed increases pretty rapidly and it’s only a couple of seconds before you’re at 65kts and pulling back on the yoke. Once we’re in the air and clear of obstacles, we lower the nose slightly and allow the airspeed to increase to 80kts and continue to climb.

It was a lovely sunny, clear day, and we climbed to around 3500ft before the instructor took control and levelled us off. He demonstrated the level exercise – how to fly the plane level at various speeds. To fly level, nose attitude must increase as power decreases. For example, if you’re cruising at 100kts the level attitude has the nose on the horizon. To fly level at 90kts, the nose must be higher. To fly level at 80kts, the nose must be higher again.

We control the nose attitude by pushing back or pulling forwards on the yoke. Once you’ve selected the right attitude and can see that you’re level, you should trim the airplane to maintain the attitude. Whenever you change the power, you should change your attitude and trim. This can be remembered as PAT:

  • Power
  • Attitude
  • Trim

From this point forwards, whenever I hand control to my instructor, he wants the airplane to be in trim. I’ve been told.

To fly straight, we identify a visual reference in front of us, note its position in the picture out the windscreen, and then a short while later we re-check its position. We’re looking to make sure it is in the same place – that means we’re heading straight. If it’s moved to the left, we’re heading to the right and need to correct our course by flying left. Similarly, if it’s moved to the right, we’re flying to the left and need to correct our course by flying right. Of course, we can also confirm we’re flying straight by looking at our heading and watching out for any changes.

After lots of practice at trimming at various speeds (PAT, PAT, PAT) and lots of turning and pointing at random things on the horizon, we headed back towards the airfield and requested to rejoin the Air Traffic Zone (ATZ) to land. My instructor told me to fly us towards the runaway (moving us left and right) and he’d control our descent. We touched down smoothly and in the middle of the runaway. My instructor said he couldn’t believe how well I’d controlled it – he probably says that to everyone. I just aimed for the runway – it really didn’t seem that hard!

In our de-brief, I was reminded that it was my responsibility now to make sure the plane is in trim when handing over control in subsequent flights. Next lesson will be climbing and descending.

4 thoughts on “Lesson 2 – Straight and level

  1. Hi Nico,

    Really good job – Tomorrow is my first lesson (after trial flight) and really excited. I was wondering if there is a specific sim you can recommend for the piper warrior PA28? FYI I’m learning with EFG at Biggin Hill. This blog is firmly in my favourites and I know will be a massive help over the coming months so thanks.

    1. Thanks Jonathan, good luck with your lesson tomorrow! Make sure you log your trial flight in your logbook too, as the time should be able to count towards the PPL training, even if today is your first official ‘lesson.

      I’ve been using X-Plane, which is a great sim, along with a PA28-161 plane that I downloaded from somewhere. Let me know if you can’t find it, and I’ll try to dig out the link.

      Let us know how you get on with your training – all the best!

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