On the day of your lesson, it is important to start by contacting the airfield to check that the weather conditions are acceptable for your flight to go ahead. Even if your local weather seems fine, it is always safest to check before setting out to avoid disappointment – if conditions are poor, the flight school will happily rearrange for another time. Likewise, if you have booked a flight but are unable to attend for any reason, it is best to let the airfield know as far in advance as possible so that they have the chance to fill your time slot. Assuming all is well and your flight goes ahead, remember also to dress appropriately. For most aircraft this means simply wearing comfortable clothes, but if you are due to fly in an open-cockpit be aware that it may get very cold! Any specialized gear needed will be provided for you, but it is best to be prepared by bringing extra layers of clothing – you can always remove a layer if you’re too warm.
Once you have arrived at the airfield, all lessons will begin with a groundside briefing. This is your opportunity to meet your instructor and familiarize yourself with the airfield and aircraft, and to ask any questions you may have ahead of the flight. Don’t be shy about asking as many or as few questions as you wish – the instructor will be eager to make this the best experience possible for you. Be prepared to fill out one or two forms; all schools will need you to sign documents for insurance purposes and many require that you become a ‘temporary member’ even for a single flight, but all costs will be included in the price of the lesson voucher. Once the formalities are out of the way, it is time to board the aircraft!
Depending which type of aircraft you have chosen, the experience of getting aboard may be very straightforward or a little tricky. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while – your safety is the most important thing and your instructor will want to ensure you are secure and comfortable. Feel free to speak up if you have any concerns as your flight will be much more enjoyable if you are feeling relaxed. In most instances you will be seated in the left-hand seat – this is the captain’s side – and your instructor will occupy the co-pilot seat. Don’t panic, you will not be expected to take control immediately! All training aircraft have dual-controls so that the instructor can take full control at any time.
Once you are aboard and the instructor has carried out the final checks to the exterior of the aircraft, you will be given a full safety briefing. Just as in a commercial passenger plane this will include everything you need to know in order to remain safe during take-off, flying and landing, and again you should feel free to ask if there is anything you are unsure of. The instructor will introduce you to the various instruments and their functions, and after the final pre-flight checks are completed, the engine will be started. Be prepared for this to be very loud! Light aircraft have very little of the insulation that protects passengers in commercial planes from the roar of the engines, but your ears should quickly become accustomed to the noise. In most aircraft you will be given a headset which will allow you to speak through intercom to your instructor. You will probably notice a chatter of radio jargon coming through from the airfield – don’t worry about trying to understand it all on this first flight as the instructor will identify any transmissions that are relevant to your lesson.
Your official flight time starts as soon as the brakes are off. The instructor will steer the aircraft as you taxy to the runway and, once the all-clear comes over the radio, the engines (and noise) ramp up to full as you finally take to the skies! It will take some time to reach cruising altitude, and since your instructor will be in full control during this period, you’ll have an opportunity to get used to the sensation of flying in a light aircraft. You may be surprised at how bumpy the flight feels – small aircraft are less shielded from the elements than large jet planes, and though it may feel a little rickety you can rest assured that training aircraft are extremely well-maintained as the safety testing requirements far exceed those for any land-vehicle. You won’t be taking control of the aircraft during the initial ascent, so this is an ideal time to take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the scenery. If you’ve brought a camera (highly recommended) most instructors will be happy for you to take pictures, but be sure to check beforehand.
Once the aircraft is cruising at a safe altitude, the time has finally come for you to have a go at taking the controls. Hopefully by this point you will be accustomed to the sights, sounds and sensations of flight and will be feeling relaxed, but if you are nervous or don’t feel ready to take the reins there is absolutely no obligation to do so – your instructor will be happy to allow you as much or as little control as you feel comfortable with. Remember that this is your experience and your instructor will want to make it as much fun as possible. It’s also worth remembering that flying is far, far safer than driving, not least because in the open sky there are no unexpected obstacles for a first time pilot to hit!
Assuming you are happy to do so, your instructor will likely allow you to pilot the aircraft for the duration of the flight, trying some simple manoeuvres and talking you through everything as you go, and you may well be surprised at how easy and intuitive the controls can be. Though all aircraft will have various information dials, you need not pay too much attention to these on your first flight – it is usually fine to navigate by eye, simply watching the view from the cockpit, and your instructor will be keeping an eye on any important factors.
Even if you have opted for an extended lesson, the time will soon fly by and, as you return towards the airfield and begin your descent, the instructor will retake the controls for landing. Many people find this the most exciting part of the whole flight – the view from a small cockpit as you approach the landing strip is like nothing you can experience in a large passenger plane. Although small aircraft can be a little bumpy at lower altitudes, landings are generally much smoother than the intense braking and thundering touchdown of commercial airliners.
As the aircraft finally slows and begins to taxy towards its parking spot, there is just one thing left for you to ask… When can I have another lesson?