Another stroke of luck in my favor is that I’m friends with the Malone family, owners of Sterling Flight Training, located at Jacksonville’s Craig Airport. That eliminated what I, and others, believe is another major roadblock to private pilots returning to the cockpit: finding the right instructor. It was an easy match for them to put me with Samantha (Sam) Harrison, CFI, CFI-I and AGI.
She impressed me right away by taking the time to dust off my logbook and learn a bit about my flying history and what I was planning to do now. Harrison is a professional instructor — she’s not building time for her dream job. Her goal is to train good, safe pilots — no matter what their skill level.
She suggested we begin my flight review with an hour in the school’s Redbird simulator, which is equipped with a G1000 panel. At $85 an hour, including instruction, it’s money well spent. I liked “flying” the Redbird — once I got it off the “ground.” Harrison warned me that the rudders were a bit sensitive, which turned out to be an understatement.
Once airborne, though, it was surprisingly 172-like. It was the perfect tool for both G1000 training and getting back a feel for the airplane. After an hour, the three of us were on speaking terms, but we weren’t friends yet.
Harrison said that, based on my long hiatus, it would take at least three to five hours of flight time to get me comfortable and confident in the cockpit again. No problem. I wanted to do it right.
After a short pre-briefing, we went out to preflight the 172. I had gotten a copy of the 172 POH and reviewed preflight and basic aircraft operations. Just like riding a bike…
The biggest difference was preflighting the G1000. There are a few more things to check both before and after starting the engine. The Sporty’s and Garmin training had covered this, so it wasn’t unfamiliar, but it was still a new procedure.
In the spirit of total disclosure, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of talking on the radio, so to eliminate that bit of stress I asked Harrison to handle the calls during this first flight. Taxiing came back pretty quickly (after I remembered to release the parking brake). Run-up was standard 172. It did take me a couple of minutes to tune the G1000, but eventually I managed to get it all sorted out.
With all the anticipation and doubt surrounding that first time I took the runway and advanced the throttle, it all came back like I had last flown, well, a few months ago. I’m not saying that I wasn’t a bit uncoordinated or that I was able to peg the airspeeds on the numbers — I was still trying to get used to the G1000’s vertical airspeed and altimeter readouts — but the airplane sounded and felt right to me.
Since our goal was to make this more of a re-familiarization flight, we kept it simple: slow flight, turns and basic navigation. After about an hour, we headed back for a couple of touch-and-goes. My landings, while not exactly beautiful, weren’t too bad. Nothing we couldn’t walk away from. But, after nearly 1½ hours in the left seat, I was getting tired. I had forgotten just how much concentration this flying thing takes.
Live from the Left Seat
I guess I didn’t mess anything up during the first preflight, because Harrison let me do the next one myself. After strapping in, she told me that we were going to spend the lesson on pattern work and that I would have to handle the radios. It was 50 degrees outside, so why was I sweating?
I totally botched my first call to ground control. I had rehearsed this 100 times. Still, when I pushed the mike button, I disconnected my brain. “Craig Ground. This is Cessna Six Zero Two Two Quebec … ” (it should have been 6200Q) — and it got worse from there. I could hear the tower guys laughing a quarter-mile away. What was that about a pilot’s fragile ego? But you can’t fly if you can’t talk — at least not at Craig — so I sucked it up and tried again. This time we got clearance to taxi. My next call to the tower was even better. There’s nothing like a live audience.