What does it feel like to fly a plane for the first time?

Answer by Jim Mantle:

The first time you are in the left seat it will be a real cocktail of feelings, all hitting you at once. Your experience will be different from my experience.

Your first flight will either be a "Discovery Flight" (Introductory Flight) at your local Flight Training Unit (FTU). Or maybe a friend has taken you for a flight and had you handle the controls for a while.

Either way, you'll experience some combination of the following:

Trepidation – I have never done this before, what if I break something or kill everybody? (you won't, and you won't).

Frustration – Aircraft are pretty good at flying in straight lines, and you're probably pretty good at driving a car or a bicycle or a boat in straight lines. But the up/down dimension is not something to which you are accustomed, so level flight will be much more difficult. As a student on one of my earlier flights I remember going up and down in 400 foot cycles, unaware that I was totally botching altitude control. And when I noticed, maintaining something resembling level flight was well beyond my capability.

Elation – You are finally doing this. You wanted to go flying, and you are.

Control – You turn, you go up and down, you can go in circles, you tilt left or right to turn. Controlling an vehicle in three dimensions, instead of two, is a mind-blowing and thrilling experience of freedom.

Exhaustion – Partly caused by the adrenalin rush from participating in the exciting new experience, partly caused by the adrenalin rush from apprehension of the new experience, and partly caused because flying is a lot of conscious work – you are 100% attentive, thinking, working.

Freedom – I have slipped the bonds of earth……

Awe – It is just totally different than anything you will have done before.

Each year I participate in two or three fly-days at my local flying club – I volunteer my time and my plane to take people flying (we've done Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Diplomats from other countries, flights for Women of Aviation Worldwide, among others). Just a quick 20-minute flight, a circuit north of the airport in the local area. My passenger does some 5-10 minutes of the flying, with a bit of real-time coaching in how to achieve results. I do the take-off and landing (of course), and my head is on a swivel at all times because the flying passenger does not know how to do a lookout – and they are overloaded just flying the plane straight and level. I make sure there is some element of just sight-seeing – I fly the plane and they get to look outside, to pause and fully experience the moment rather than be fully immersed in work. I have them do the radio calls from a script (we are at an uncontrolled airport, so only two calls are required – though we'll do a few more informational calls). Even broadcasting on the radio is a thrill.

For the WOAW flights in March 2014, I remember one girl who was a natural. She flew the plane smoothly, could maintain headings and altitude, was receptive and a quick learner. Her mom was in the back seat and totally pleased as punch as her daughter's accomplishments. As she turned to final, 500 feet AGL and with the runway ahead of us, I complimented her on her natural ability and jokingly asked her if she wanted to also do the landing – a sudden look of apprehension on her face, and that was the spot where mom spoke up. Good for a laugh, as there never was any consideration of allowing her to complete that phase of the flight. I hope that girl caught the spark – but she probably could do any of a number of different pursuits.

What does it feel like to fly a plane for the first time?

How difficult is it to learn how to fly a Cessna 172?

Answer by Tom Farrier:

I found it to be a friendly and forgiving little bird.  It has enough power to get/keep you out of trouble; it has very docile stall characteristics that are easily recovered; it loves to make and maintain steep turns if you have your power set right; and, you have an excellent view of the runway over the glare shield and off to your side, the latter thanks to the high wing configuration.

A couple of practical things to think about:

1.  Buy a kneeboard and learn how to organize stuff on it.  There isn't much real estate in the cockpit for stowing things you need to have readily accessible.

2.  See how your back feels after each flight.  If you find you're getting achy, try a lumbar pillow.  (Seat adjustment options aren't ideal for all heights and reaches.)

3.  Save your pennies.  Aviation gas is pricey, and most -172s are kind of thirsty.

4.  Train in the fall or spring as much as possible; the cockpit environment isn't too easy to keep comfortable, and physiological distractions take your attention away from your training.  If you have to pick summer or winter, do the latter and bundle up.

Have fun!

How difficult is it to learn how to fly a Cessna 172?