I’ve wanted to fly planes since I was a kid.
I don’t remember how I got it, but when I was barely in my double digits of age, I had a poster of the F-22 Raptor hanging on my door. That was and still is my favorite fighter jet in the U.S. arsenal. I played Air and Ace Combat games, always trying to figure out how to unlock that fighter if it was available. At the time, it was considered the best fighter jet when it came to dog fights.
I never got to fly it, obviously. I did join the military, but not as a pilot. I only went to college for career classes to be a firefighter and that didn’t turn out too well. So an officer’s career wasn’t very promising in my life. I didn’t mind though. I actually liked the job I had eventually. During the end of basic training though, I did get a rare experience. Just as graduation was ending, my graduating class was one of the few that had an F-22 fly by overhead. One of the coolest sights of my life.
Then I rediscovered flight simulators.
I’ve always known about them. In high school, we had a flight club that used the simulators. We used Windows Flight Simulator…..2002 or 2004. I graduated high school in 2006, so it had to be one of those. They had the whole yoke and pedals set up and treated the training just an actual flight school. At least I think they did. At the time, I wouldn’t have known because I was still a naive teenager. I also played flight simulators at home every once in a while but that’s just it, I played. I never actually tried to learn anything on my own, so I always got bored and I always threw them to the side.
Only recently have I taken flight simulators seriously. I found out the base I work at has an aero club. I started to get real interested in planes and flying again, but this time, I was actually going to do it. I wanted to do it right and be ahead of the curve I suppose. Unfortunately, the ground school at the aero club is just about always full, even almost a year in advance. So I got back into the simulators.
Since I knew of Windows Flight Simulator from previous experience, I purchased the most recent one, Flight Simulator 2010 (FSX). I liked making games as immersive as possible, so I already had a joystick, throttle and TrackIR (If you don’t know, TrackIR tracks your head movement) from a separate game. Those were used those to make the simulator as realistic as possible. I know most conventional planes don’t have joysticks but rather yokes, but it’s what I had at the time.
Now FSX has it’s own kind of virtual flight school that I used. It actually helped me a great deal. I also joined the Flight Sim and Aviation subreddits to increase my knowledge on the subject, both for simulators and actual flying. I practically had all the help I could get before taking an actual flight school class.
I was hooked. It wasn’t too long until I purchased a yoke and pedals as well as third party simulator planes. From training planes such as the C-172 Skyhawk to the P-51 Mustang. All general aviation planes. I had a thing for the prop planes. I guess I just like being able to hear and feel the wind from a propeller rather than just a slow wine from a jet turbine. I also got into software that gave flying from point A to point B a purpose. Little objectives so I’m being entertained as I learned. It was kind of the perfect set up.
It wasn’t long until I called to start flight training.
I didn’t go the aero club on base though. They have a monthly fee on top of paying for each lesson. I went to a nearby flight school. I also didn’t start ground school. Just like the aero club, their class was all booked up as well. Flying seemed to be pretty popular where I was. But I was told by one of the instructors there that ground school isn’t necessary. A short lecture is done before each flight. Couple that with some at home studying from a text-book, and it could be just as good as ground school.
So I booked my first discovery flight. The plane was a P-28 Cherokee. I told my instructor about how I got into flight sims and he let me fly. I don’t know if this is common for a discovery flight, but I felt prepared.
I was half prepared. Sure, I knew the gauges, I learned how the properties of flight worked, all that stuff. But something I knew was different from a flight sim was the feeling. I was very nervous once I sat in the pilot’s seat and started up the engine. I couldn’t even taxi straight. But as soon as we got to the end of the flight line, I did my best to push all the nerves to the side.
They were still there, but as soon as we started rolling, I was having more fun than I was feeling nervous. Once I felt we were in the air, I had nothing else on my mind other than flying the plane. Sure, I was white knuckled on the yoke and holding down one of the rudder pedals because of the yaw, but I was having so much fun and we were in the air for only less than a minute. I took the plane to about 2,500 feet. After performing some basic turns and straightening out at certain headings, my instructor was able to direct me over my home. I half wanted to take my phone out and tell my wife to get outside and look up.
After a few u-turn, it was time to head back to the home flight line. Now this was in the summer and because of the heat thermals, there was a ton of turbulence at low altitudes. Even though my instructor wanted me to land, I had to refuse. He took control and brought us down. The same thing happened at the end of the second and last flight so far.
But for the second flight, we went over stall training. I have never been so scared in my life. We were sitting at 3,000 ft. this time. Almost nothing but farmland and the nearby city in the distance. He demonstrated a stall the first time. My stomach sank. No rollercoaster could replicate that fear. The plane just felt liked it dropped, which it kind of did. Nose first, it dipped, but as soon as it did, the instructor performed the preparations to level it out again. The first time I tried it out, I slammed the throttle back up as fast as I could out of sheer panic. After he told me to ease it from now on, I had the plane stall a third time. I was still scared out of my mind, but I was able to control myself a little better.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had another lesson since.
The winter weather came in and the rain started to happen. Whether they would let me go up while it was raining or not, I didn’t feel prepared for it. And of course, flying is an expensive hobby. I got married recently and I’m just now recovering from some of the expenses on that. I have high intentions of continuing at some point soon though.