"Cherokee 9213D, cleared for takeoff, Runway 11R."The words sent a jolt of adrenaline through my body as I pushed the power forward and taxied past the hold-short line and onto the runway.
"Pilot window, Closed; Fuel pump, On; Landing and Recognition Light, On; Door, Closed and Locked - Lineup Check Complete"The studying came in handy as I went through the checklist by memory, as is required for many of the critical checklist items at FlightSafety. No comments from the instructor meant I was doing well as I double checked my heading (making sure I was on the correct runway) and pushed the throttle to its forward stop. I rotated at 55kts and took to the sky on my first flight at my new school. The flight was a cross-country (over 50 miles, straight line) flight to Kissimmee (KISM) as an evaluation of my piloting skills. I would be tested on my pre-planning, preflight, navigation, diversion, decision making, and stick-and-rudder skills over the next 2 1/2 hours, above the barren and hot interior of Florida.
Navigating to Kissimmee is fairly straight-forward in a plane like those I flew back in Frederick. The one I was flying was a bit different. In Frederick, the Cessna 172Rs had two navigation radios (NAV-COM), GPS, moving map display, and (in N26499) an ADF. The Piper PA-28-160 Cherokee Cadet had a single NAV-COM. And a compass. And a DG - without a heading bug on it. It doesn't get any simpler in general aviation these days. In fact, I'm fairly certain you'd have to CUSTOM ORDER a plane that simple if you bought one today! This sort of navigation really tested my pilotage skills, otherwise known as dead-reckoning. Simply put, it was looking out the damn window and finding where you are on a map!
Further, I was required to know every performance calculation relating to the aircraft:
Runway headwind component;
Runway Cross-wind component;
Weight and Balance;
Takeoff roll distance (0° and 25° flaps);
Takeoff distance over a 50' obstacle (0° and 25° flaps);
Best angle of climb;
Best rate of climb;
Landing distance over a 50' obstacle;
Time, distance, and fuel used to top-of-climb;
Engine performance and setting at cruise;
Top-of-descent point, including fuel used, and time of descent;
PLUS, all of the standard cross-country calculations!
And here's the kicker, I have to do the first 13 calculations, EVERY TIME I go flying! Never before had preflight planning been SO thorough, but this is professional aviation. Yes, in modern commercial aircraft there are computers calculating all of this for you automatically (with just a few inputs), but here, they want you to know every aspect of your craft, INSIDE AND OUT. Its amazing, to be honest, and very humbling.
Long story short, my flight went amazingly. He had only 2 or 3 items on my pre-flight planning to comment on and my landings were pretty good, especially considering it was my first time in the aircraft, and it was after working my brain on a challenging first cross-country (a LOT of thermal activity en-route made it difficult to hold heading/altitude). On the way back, he simulated a diversion for me, to which I had to calculate my initial heading, distance, time en-route, and fuel consumption on the fly. While I got the right answer, it took a little longer than I felt I am capable, and feel need to practice it more. We did a touch-and-go at Sebastian Airport (my roommate was in a different aircraft doing them at the same time) and headed out over the ocean for some basic maneuvers. We did slow-flight, power-on and -off stalls, and steep turns. All of them went very well, with minimum coaching on the critical speeds and checklists. Chris was especially happy that on my steep-turns, I only had about 10 feet of deviation in altitude!
After the flight, Chris had to leave to another lesson, but in the debrief, he told me my flying ability was more than acceptable for FlightSafety's standards, and he'd have no issue soloing me in their aircraft the next day. We need another flight to practice emergency procedures, but I'm confident after a few more hours and landings in the Cadet, I'll be more than comfortable to go it alone.
Next step is a meeting with the Chief Flight Instructor, Nancy, on Monday to discuss what I have to meet the FAA requirements for my Commercial Pilot's Certificate. I'll be back to post about that, following the meeting.
For now, a picture: