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This is the first of a (hopefully) complete series of posts chronicling my journey along the path to a private pilot certificate.

Finally deciding to do it has been the biggest hurdle so far. My attempt to rationalize it by considering travel by light aircraft to be a viable option to either driving or commercial cattleplanes imploded when I began researching the performance capabilities of semi-affordable piston singles. So, I'm doing it just because I want to do it, have fun, learn a lot, and gain some knowledge and perspective that is applicable to my field of work. And besides, I've been fixated on the idea for several months already, so I may as well dive in.

While the travel practicality idea was still viable in my head, I took the whole family on a discovery flight to make sure the wife and kids (5 and 2 years old) could cope with flying in little planes. It was a glass smooth 72° sunny day, so everyone came away smiling. Of course the flight school didn't have any 5 or 6 seaters, so my wife and #1 son went up with the instructor while #2 son and I waited for our flight. I knew that she would be at the controls for her flight, but left that as an on-the-spot surprise. She handled it and the airplane quite well, I must say!

I really dig what computers have done to revolutionize communication and education. Instead of reading thick books and arranging my schedule around ground school classes, the Cessna "Cleared for Takeoff" DVD based ground school lets me study when and where I want and shows a lot of the course content with visual illustrations and in-flight video clips. It does a spectacular job of presenting complex concepts in a manner that normal people can easily grasp. To give you an indication of how much content is there, each of the 20 lessons is on its own DVD. My progress and test results are available to my instructor via internet based communication to a central server that updates automatically every time I start or exit the program. I've already read the Cessna 152 Information Manual and I intend to read the relevant FARs and FAA books "Airplane Flying Handbook" and "Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge" along the way.

Flight lesson #1 was even more of a sink-or-swim experience than the discovery flight because I did the weight and balance calculations, preflight inspection, all of the checklists, flipped all the switches/knobs/controls, and actually flew the whole flight. I think the only things I didn't do were radio calls and deciding what to do next.

Liftoff at 50 knots was rather sudden, which my instructor charitably chocked up to a gust. The first 30 seconds of the climb consisted of over-controlled wobbling about all 3 axes simultaneously as my brain attempted to program itself to the right gain, rate, and lag for each axis. About halfway through that, I realized that sorting out all 3 axes simultaneously was not going well, so I focused on one at a time. That worked much better. I was quite proud of myself for identifying the problem correctly, devising an effective plan, and stabilizing the flight path so quickly. As the flight progressed, there were still some gradual path deviations, but of much smaller magnitude as I got a feel for the controls. The instructor said I was a lot better than average at setting the pitch trim and that I didn't make a lot of the usual first lesson mistakes. The landing, however, was more swoop-thunk than flare-settle. I just downloaded X-plane and a digital Cessna 152 to try different landing techniques. Hopefully that will help a little.

So now I have 1.0 hours in my shiny new log book and I can't wait for the next one to begin. This is fun!

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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