Higher education takes off Flying: In the introductory lesson, you really fly the airplane, but the instructor handles the return to reality.

December 21, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,STAFF WRITER

Fly, he said.

Actually, what veteran flight instructor George "Skip" Lacey said as he leaned on the counter inside the WestAir office at Carroll County Regional Airport on a sparkling morning last week was, "You're going to fly the plane."

What he also said was, "You will scare yourself long before you scare me." Spoken like a man who has seen too many sharp turns and steep dives in 25 years of teaching flying.

WestAir, the airport operator, began a holiday special last week, an introductory flying lesson for $39.95. Owner June Poage includes any holidays through the year, along with birthdays and anniversaries.

Lacey, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot, wasn't talking about letting the prospective pilot relax and enjoy the ride, watch the light and shadow on the winter fields and maybe put hands on the wheel when the flight instructor has the plane in a nice, safe glide. The steering wheel is called a yoke.

Lacey meant that the would-be pilot would be responsible for making the plane go more or less straight down the taxiway and runway, avoiding collisions with parked planes, while steering with the feet. (Must have been an Orville and Wilbur Wright thing, designing the foot pedals to steer and brake.)

Lacey also meant that in the air, the would-be pilot would turn, climb, correct for wind pushing the plane in unintended directions, learn how to get from high above Westminster to high above Hampstead and learn how to keep the plane aligned with the horizon.

The experience is as relaxing as stuffing an octopus into a locking plastic bag.

This, I can't help thinking, is no place for a Buckeye dropout. To explain, I started to learn last year to fly a Buckeye, an ultralight craft that resembles a motorized tricycle held in the air by a parachute.

I dropped out because the lessons all seemed to be about torque and tension, levers, inclined planes and force equals mass times acceleration. The mechanically challenged, I concluded, can't fly Buckeyes.

So, what am I doing buckled into the front seat of a Cessna 172?

Lacey picked up a microphone. "I'm talking to the tower now," he said. Mental note: Remember how he did that. If anything happens to Lacey, and the photographer and I are stuck out there over Hampstead, it could be important to know how to call the tower.

The flight instructor likened sitting before the controls of an airplane for the first time to driving a car.

"It's like somebody that had never driven, never seen a car. And here you are, an experienced driver. Here you are going down the highway at 50 miles an hour and up ahead there's a red light. Now, you know when to take your foot off the gas. You know when to move it to the brake. You know how hard to push, and you come to a smooth stop, three feet from the guy's bumper in front of you. Is that difficult? Not a bit. But try to teach that to a person who has never been in a car," he said.

Landing, Lacey said, is the most difficult part of flying. Mental note: It's also crucial to the success of the venture.

A student pilot can make perfect takeoffs after an average of three hours of instruction, Lacey said. "You won't scare us doing it today. It won't be pretty, but you won't scare us," he said. A perfect landing takes an average of 10 hours of instruction, he said.

For an introductory lesson, Lacey does the preflight inspection, which includes checking for moisture in the gas tank and nicks that could throw the propeller off balance. Before taking off, he checks the engine and the two independent ignition systems.

He handles acceleration for takeoff and talks the student pilot down the runway.

In the air, climbing, crossing Route 97, Lacey teaches how to make the plane level, how to make the constant small corrections that a veteran motorist or pilot makes without thinking about it, how to check the windows for other planes. Mental memo: Even if we have to make the wing point straight down, we're going to stay out of the way of other planes.

I made the plane go right. The wind buffeted it. "Push, push, push, push, push," Lacey said. I pushed. The plane turned. Time flew. The 30-minute flight would be over as soon as we landed.

I pushed the yoke forward and a large quantity of ground came into view through the windshield. "Don't dive too steeply," Lacey said. "You won't like it." No argument.

"I'm going to help you with the landing," Lacey said.

"Thank you," said the photographer.

The instructor brought the plane in easily, like a veteran motorist who knows just when to put his foot on the brake.

Anyone who takes flying lessons will have to learn about ailerons and rudders and how molecules of air parted by the plane's wing seek to reunite. Torque may be in there somewhere. But the mechanically challenged can handle the introductory lesson.

Flying lessons at Carroll County airport cost $68 an hour for in-air instruction and $133 total for ground school. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 20 hours of instruction with dual controls and 20 hours of solo flight to qualify for a pilot licensing test, but WestAir owner Poage said the average student spends about 55 hours in the air before taking the test.

The photographer and I thanked Lacey for making sure we got up in the air, around the county and back down again safely.

"I tell students, 'I'm not going to let you break [the plane],' " he said. "And I don't have any suicidal tendencies."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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