Learning to Fly: Turning

Turning in an airplane is interesting. On the ground, when you are taxiing, you steer with the pedals, not with the wheel the way you would in a car. Most modern trainers have two main tires that are fixed in place under the body of the plane, and a smaller one under the nose that can be steered. Some aircraft have the small wheel under the tail instead of the nose, and those are called “tailwheel” or “taildragger” to distinguish them.

When you are taxiing on the ground, you push with the main part of your foot to keep the plane centered on the yellow line, and if you need a bigger correction, you point your toes to use the brakes. Just a touch to one side or the other usually does the trick. One foot works the brake on the right main tire, the other works the left, so if you need to stop straight ahead, you’d better use both feet! Moving the yoke or wheel gets you nothing but a laugh from the instructor, unless you are in a crosswind and need to work the aileronn on the wings.

I was lucky not to have driven a car much when I was learning to fly. I didn’t have the reflexes to override, always wanting to use a steering wheel. In fact, when I flew solo for the first time, I still hadn’t driven a car without an instructor present! That didn’t mean I was instantly good at taxiing, of course. It still took some practice. After all, planes are not as good moving on the ground as they are in the air. But eventually I was trundling merrily down the center of the yellow line on the way to and from the runway.

Turning in the air is even odder for the uninitiated. Then you get to use the control yoke, using the ailerons to tilt the plane to the right or the left. It’s just like leaning on a bicycle if you are going around a turn really fast. You use your feet too if it’s a really steep turn, because now the pedals control the rudder instead of the nose wheel and the brakes. It can be fun, watching the horizon tilt to a fifteen, thirty, forty-five, or even sixty degree angle!

There are other considerations when you are turning in the air- wind speed, how fast you want to turn, what you are using as a reference. One of the things new pilots learn is S turns across a road, and turns around a point. That helps them with precise flying and putting the plane exactly where they want it, with no guesswork. So if you see a little plane circling around a particular area, over and over, when there isn’t really anything around to look at except maybe a barn in the middle of open country, that might be a student pilot out in the practice area, learning how to turn.

Looking Down at the World

It’s an interesting feeling, watching the world from the cockpit of a small plane. I used to fly. I even lived at a small airport for a while. Any old (air)port in a storm, as they say. When I lived at the airport, I usually flew in Cessna 152b trainers. They are small planes with two seats, a high wing design, one propeller, and a 108 horsepower four cylinder engine. They fly at a speed of about 80-110 miles per hour, and they weigh around 1500 pounds fueled. You can easily tow them on the ground without help.

I loved flying in those little planes. We rarely went out at night, and of course we always had rules of safety and politeness so we would avoid annoying people on the ground. Of course, by that I mean we didn’t want to annoy people on the ground, but I suppose you could read that the other way, that we also avoided the annoying people who were on the ground!

Either way, we didn’t fly too low, or in certain areas where it might be safe, or too close to man-made objects.. I learned how to do all kinds of things in the air. Various kinds of navigation, different turns, staying steady with my course, crossing hills or mountains safely. The world flattened out, hills looked insignificant, and suddenly roads were just valuable navigation landmarks. I’d look down at the freeway, see the cars crawling there like ants, and laugh like a loon. “I’m up here!” I’d cry. “You’re down there!”

Towns and fields, forests and waterways all spread below me. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was at six thousand feet, above the clouds It was like flying over a sparkling white plain, with hills and clumps of puffy white and nothing but the blue, blue sky above. That was glorious! Another beautiful sight: a night flight, with a full moon in the sky and the wing gone silver with the light.

When I was new to flying, the sight that amazed me most was simple. The left main tire, in its fairing, sitting just below and next to my window. I’d seen that wheel touching the gritty pavement as I’d started the plane and taxied out to the runway. Now, below it, there was nothing under it but a thousand feet of space. That, and green fields, hills, rivers, roads, and a whole world to be flown over.