Flying Over Rhode Island

Piloting a Private Plane for the First Time

Last weekend, I flew. I climbed into a small plane, settled into the pilot’s seat, taxied to the runway, took off, and in no time was sailing 2000 feet above the Rhode Island coastline at over 100 miles an hour. Of course it wasn’t that simple, I didn’t actually do the take-off and landing, and the licensed pilot was right there every moment, but I did steer the plane left and right, up and down, and around a couple tight corners.

 

My little adventure, called an “Airman’s Flight”, was designed to introduce potential student pilots to the joy of flying. Not as intense as a formal flight lesson, I still received a detailed walk-through on the pre-flight inspection and the use of the yoke, rudder, throttle, and trim controls. Sorry about the jargon there, I could have said “all the knobs and wheels that control where the plane goes.”

The teaching started on ground. “An airplane is not the best place to learn the basic concepts,” said Horizon’s office manager, Chris Porter. “There’s a lot going on and a lot of noise.” Student pilots get 40 hours of classroom time, with extensive flying experience, but for the airman’s flight, I got a half-hour of easy-to-understand instructions on what a small plane owner goes through every time he wants to fly off to Block Island or Niagara Falls.

There’s no substitute for actually flying, though. Being told on the ground that a plane has a delay between turning the yoke and when it actually begins to tilt is not the same as experencing it in the air. Being told that the bumps and wobbles are absolutely normal and nothing to worry about is not the same thing as seeing the calm pilot not even reaching for the controls when the plane jumps to the side.

We started at Horizon Aviation’s offices at the north end of TF Green Airport, in the building that lifelong Rhode Islanders may associate with Hillsgrove. Under the watchful eye of my trainer Steve Wesolowski, I steered the plane along the ground using foot pedals to control the rudder and the brakes. Just that experience drove home the point that an airplane does not drive like a car.

We took off from the same runways the big airliners use, taking to the air in just a few hundred feet. Flying South, we were past Goddard Park and almost to Quonsett Point before we settled in at 2500 feet and Steve said it was my time to fly.

Flying at 130 mph at 2500 feet feels like you’re barely moving. Tilting the nose down by pushing the yoke forward a little doesn’t change the altitude much, since the plane speeds up and creates more lift. A 30-degree turn may seem tame when you’re sitting at home describing it to your family, but in the air it feels like the whole plane is standing on the tip of the wing.

I was so focused on the dials and the horizon line, I didn’t even notice that we had traveled from Quonset to Point Judith. Once we turned West to travel out toward Misquamicut Beach, I started paying attention to the ground.

It was a beautiful day for flying, and a beautiful day for looking at the world from a couple thousand feet up. The views were incredible.

We circled back, across the bottom of Jamestown Island, up the eastern side of Newport, over the Mount Hope bridge, and finally back to TF Green.

Before I flew, I had never looked out the front window of a plane in flight. Now I’m not sure I’ll ever be content to look out the tiny side windows of airliners ever again.

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My airman’s flight was arranged through the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association and courtesy of the the wonderful folks in Rhode Island’s Horizon Aviation. To book your own airman’s flight or to set up a full series of flight lessons to get your certification, visit the AOPA website at LetsGoFlying.com, or Horizon Aviation at www.HorizonAviation.com.

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