Well, what can I say. Today was the perfect day to fly….except….. my feet never left the ground or any other part of me for that matter. That’s not entirely true. I did climb into the plane so technically I was off the ground a bit. I guess it would be more accurate to say that my feet never got above 5ft. Nevertheless it was an important session. Today was all about getting ready to fly. It was also about learning about all the gizmos and gadgets on the instrument panel.
Today I drove my truck so no Tom Cruise movie flashbacks. Still, I was quite jazzed about having my next lesson. I found Chuck in the office looking over the shoulder of Angela (I’m pretty sure it was Angela. I’m so bad with names.) as they worked on some airplane related creations in a web based version of a popular office suite. (That particular company has enough money already and they aren’t sharing any with me so they don’t get any free advertising here!) I was a little early so we chatted about why technology tends to suck sometimes. I work with technology all the time so I’m a pretty good conversationalist when it comes to pointing out all the shortcomings of various technology related items.
After a bit, Chuck and I grabbed our headsets and the logbook for the plane we were going to …(cough)….. “fly” today. We laid our items on the starboard side wing of the aircraft ( that would be the right side for those not well versed in nautical or aeronautical terminology. Think of it as the passenger side of a car.) and began a quick walk around the aircraft to see if there were any obvious signs to be concerned about, such as, things falling off, big holes that shouldn’t be there, dents and things like that. After that, it becomes much more granular. I’m a big picture guy. I don’t much like getting off in the weeds with the details. However, details cannot be skipped in this process. It’s kind of hard to pull off and park on a cloud and call AAA to come get you. Generally really bad things could happen if EVERYTHING is not looked at before each flight. It’s a time consuming process and try’s the patients of impatient guys like me.
Chuck began to walk me around the plane pointing out all the details that need to be looked at and explaining everything as he went. He’s really quite good at that. We looked at the starboard wing and landing gear. We checked all the screws and hinges. Examined the landing gear on that side. Visually inspected the fuel level ( the fuel tanks are in the wings). We even used a special jar with a unique lid that allowed us to drain a little fuel from the tank from a small valve called a “sump” underneath the wing. The fuel is a very pure, very high octane gas that is light blue in color. To me it smelled a bit like butane that you would use to fill a lighter. It didn’t smell like gas at all. It even evaporated from you hands quickly and didn’t leave a bad odor afterwards that haunts you for the rest of the day like after stopping at the 7-Eleven and filling you car and grabbing a coffee on your way to work. We looked for stuff floating around in it that shouldn’t be there as well as water that may be in the fuel. Water looks like a bubble that settles to the bottom of the jar since it’s denser than the fuel. Everything looked good and we dumped it back into the tank and moved on to the nose of the plane.
We opened the cowling and were greeted by the powerhouse that makes it all “go”. In this plane it is a piston engine, just like in a car, but that is about where the resemblance stops. Each cylinder has two spark plugs. The both are powered by magnetos. One plug is powered by the magneto on the left and the other is powered by the magneto on the right. The magnetos visually look like distributor caps on an old ’70′s pinto, but hopefully without the exploding fuel tank option, if you are old enough to remember that. Once the engine is running it is self energized. This means that the entire electrical system in the plane can fail and it won’t kill the engine. There is no transmission or gearbox. The propeller or “prop” is bolted directly to the front of the engine so it spins at the same RPM as the engine. The propeller is fixed pitch, which means that the pitch of the blades doesn’t change. The speed of the engine is what controls how fast the plane is pulled forward. We looked around to see if anything was damaged, frayed or disconnected. We checked the oil just like a car, with the dipstick. It was fine. We moved to the prop and made sure it was tight and no screws were loose or missing. Examined the alternator belt and made sure not cats, birds nests or any other animal dwelling was inside behind the prop. We looked at the front landing light and the front landing gear to make sure there were no issues there. Then stuck our noses inside the port side cowling and did the same once over we did on the other side. We took some fuel for examination from the sump underneath. Then we checked the windshield and moved on to the port side wing.
The wing examination was the same as the other side with a few odds and ends that were sensors and switches that weren’t on the other side. We also drained and check some fuel from the port side wing tank sump, just like the other side. We then moved toward the tail and examined the antennas and rudder to make sure everything moved freely and nothing important was missing like a bolt or screw. This would be a very bad thing. Happily, everything was OK and it was time to move inside.
Once stuffed inside, Chuck explained all the pieces and parts of the console. There are a LOT of instruments and gauges and electronic doodads that give tons of information all at the same time. That in itself is very overwhelming. I will get into more detail in a future post because frankly, I can’t remember everything. I do remember the sun was pretty hot and I was wishing this thing had airconditioning. Generally this isn’t an issue because I can’t imagine normally that you would sit inside too long without getting moving relatively quickly. Anyway, there is a pre-flight checklist to make sure everything is set properly before starting the engine. Additionally, there is a run-up check list. This is the list of things you do right before takeoff with the engine running. All of these needs to be done before every flight to make sure everything is working and set correctly before the engine is started. We didn’t get into too much about this yet because this session was about learning everything that was in there. After all of this, time was pretty much up so we didn’t have time to actually fly, which was disappointing to me but it was important and definitely a lot of information to process. I’m exhausted just writing about it.