First flying lesson

I had my first flying lesson on April 28, 2015. The lesson was a gift from my wife for my 40th birthday…..a priceless gift to be sure. I will be taking lessons at the Wings of Carolina Flying Club located at TTA (a.k.a Raleigh Executive Jetport) in Sanford, NC. My instructor will be Betsy McCracken. She has graduated many of the pilots and even flight instructors at the club and has been an instructor since 2001, accumulating 6500 hours of flight time.

On the first lesson, we took off from TTA and headed for the west practice area. We climbed to 2500 feet with a cruise speed of approx. 95 KIAS. I learned some basic flight skills in this lesson. My instructor demonstrated the “4 finger” technique to determine your attitude with respect to the horizon. Basically, you put four fingers on the top of the instrument panel and if the horizon is below the top of your fingers, your aircraft’s nose is pitched too high and if the horizon is above the four fingers your aircraft’s nose is pitched too low. Another visual reference she showed me was while climbing, the horizon should pass midway between the instrument panel. All this talk about visual references brought back my ground instructor John Hunter’s advice, while VFR flying you should be looking out the cockpit 95% of the time.

Next, Betsy made me do some IFR flying……Hold on, you think to yourself….did you just say IFR flying on your first lesson……that is correct, IFR=”I Follow Roads”. She gave me a chart and asked me to figure out what was the road down there. Highway 64 never looked more beautiful. We followed it west till we reached Siler City.

I must mention here that the day we choose to fly was absolutely gorgeous and the view was breathtaking. I have always maintained that we live in one of the most scenic and beautiful regions of this country, but you haven’t seen anything till you fly and take in the beauty of the region from a small plane. It is a spiritual experience.

During this leg of the flight, Betsy, brave soul that she is, gave me the flight controls. I must admit, I was a little bit dizzy and scared, especially to make turns as it can be a bit intimidating when you are banked about 30 degrees and you press on the rudder to keep “the ball in the cage”, an aviation term used to refer to keeping the ball of the turn co-ordinator in between the two vertical lines to make a coordinated turn.

By this time we had reached the intersection of 64 and 421. I have taken the 421 exit from 64 an uncountable number of times, but this time around taking that exit going south took on a whole new meaning. We followed 421 South till we were close to Sanford, our destination for this hour-long first lesson. We aligned with the down-wind leg, and then base and final…..a perfect touchdown. We debriefed, took some pictures, checked in the flight and scheduled the next lesson.

Lessons learned on the first flight:

While VFR flying, look out 95% of the time. Use visual references, such as location of nose with respect to horizon, for attitude, bank etc and adjust based on these visual references. Look at instruments occasionally to make sure airspeed, engine r.p.m, seem OK. This might seem trivial at first, but I found myself constantly looking at the gauges to make sure I was at altitude or looking at the airspeed or checking that the ball is in the cage. My instructor pointed this out to me when we returned.

At one point my instructor asked me to climb and I promptly pulled back on the yoke. Although the yoke controls the “elevator” , it does not help you to “elevate”. My instructor reminded me, what I had learned in my ground school, that you need to increase power by applying throttle to climb and that the yoke is for speed control. “Pitch for speed and power for altitude” is the mantra.

Private ground school at Wings of Carolina Club by John Hunter.

Welcome to my aviation blog. My attempt here is to document my journey towards achieving my dream of aviation. My ultimate goal is to get to CFI and beyond…… but of course every long journey starts with a single step.The first step I have taken is to start ground school. I feel more confident every Wednesday that I have stepped in the right direction by joining the ground school at Wings of Carolina Flying Club(WCFC) taught by John Hunter. In addition to the Private Ground School, John also teaches IFR and Commercial Ground School at WCFC.

John Hunter teaching ground school.

John Hunter teaching ground school.


John is a wonderful teacher with a wealth of aviation knowledge. In addition to being a pilot and having taught ground school for many years, John boasts a long career in the aviation industry and is able to give actual examples and anecdotes, based on his real world experience. The classes are very technical in nature and packed with information as there is a lot to cover in the syllabus. You must read ahead and do the homework, just like in any college level course to keep up. In fact this course is equivalent to a college level 3 credit hour course

I personally enjoy the questions and discussions among the students. The quality of questions and answers makes the learning process fun and enriching. There is a nice mix of students from every level of proficiency, right from first time students, like me, to students already taking flight training to advanced students with advanced certificates like commercial etc. who are retaking the class with John to enhance and refresh their knowledge. This mix of proficiency makes the class that much more fun. Before I started ground school I was debating whether I should take the classroom course or online. I can tell you now, nothing can replace the classroom experience. I would highly recommend it over doing an online course.


I will post here articles about various aviation topics mostly based on what I learn in class, numerical problems and other information that will be useful for FAA tests, any other interesting pieces of information that I might stumble across on the internet or other blogs, aviation pictures etc. I hope to generate discussion and get feedback from the aviation community. I hope you enjoy reading my articles and keep visiting my blog.  Thanks for stopping by, please come again and invite your friends too.

Takeoff distance calculation from graph.

This is the example to calculate takeoff distance from graph as given on page 8-30 of the “Private Pilot Test Prep 2015”. In the example we are given the following parameters:

Outside air temperature: 90 F

Pressure altitude: 2000 ft

Takeoff weight: 2500 lbs

Headwind component of wind: 20 knots

Step 1: Use the temperature provided and draw a vertical line to intercept the appropriate pressure altitude curves.

Step 2: Go horizontally till you reach reference line #1. This is your density altitude. This is how high (or low) the plane “feels” it is sitting when non-standard pressure and temperature are accounted for.

Step 3: From the point on the first reference line go down, diagonally, staying proportionally distant from the two lines between which you are plotting, till you intercept your weight line. Staying proportionally distant between the two lines means if you start half way, stay half way till you intercept the weight line, or a third of the way between the line or whatever the case maybe. But try to stay equi-distant from the two lines as far as possible.

Step 4: From this point again go right horizontally till you intercept reference line #2. This point is your takeoff roll if wind conditions are “calm”.

Step 5: If you do have a headwind component, then proceed plotting to the right diagonally down. Again as in step 3, stay proportionally distant from the two lines between which you are plotting your line, to intercept the headwind component.

Step 6: Plot a horizontal line to the right. Where this intercepts reference line #3, draw two lines. One horizontal to get the takeoff roll (Step 6a). The other diagonally up, following the closest curve to represent the total distance to the 50 foot obstacle from the start of the takeoff (Step 6b).


Graph extracted from “Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement” (FAA-CT-8080-2F)

Following these plots (solid red line) you will get a takeoff roll of approximately 500 feet and a total distance to the 50ft obstacle of approximately 1000 feet. These distances are OK to answer the FAA Knowledge test. But for practical purposes, to add a margin of safety, we can add an additional 50% to get a takeoff roll of 600 feet.

Also from the weight and takeoff speed inset, it is seen that for 2500 lbs you can extrapolate and see that the approximate speed at takeoff is 62 knots at end of roll and 67 knots at 50 feet, which is also Vx.