First-Timer Learns the Ropes in Flying Lesson


(Sunday, November 4, 2007 8:21 AM EST)

I've always loved flying - watching the airport recede during takeoff, poring over the laminated safety instructions, chewing gum to ease the popping in my ears, all of it.

But I'd never been on anything but large airliners until recently, when I took an introductory flight lesson in a Cessna 172 at AV-ED Flight School in Leesburg.

Flight instructor Patrick Smith guided me through my “Discovery Flight,” and we started things off by mapping out our route from Leesburg to Frederick, and back again.

We also made a flight plan, which included creating inbound and outbound “squawk codes,” allowing the aircraft to be identified on radar by air-traffic controllers.

Next was a thorough preflight safety check of the interior and exterior of the aircraft we were using for our flight.

“You're supposed to do a safety check of your car every time you drive, but no one ever does,” Smith said. “But with an airplane, there's nowhere to pull off and see what's wrong.”

Although the possibility of something going wrong made me a little nervous, I felt like I was in good hands with Smith.

He told me he started flying because of his grandfather, who had been the pilot of Navy PBY Catalina flying boats. When he died, Smith's grandfather had left him money for his first 10 hours of flight lessons.

“After that, I was hooked,” Smith said. “I love it.”

Smith then gave me a rundown on how everything on the instrument panel works, and what all of the controls do. Then, we were off to the runway and in the air in a snap - quite a change from the interminable waits for take-off on commercial airlines.

Since Leesburg is within an Air Defense Identification Zone, we had to monitor our altitudes carefully to make sure we weren't flying higher than we were supposed to.

(The zone is similar to an upside-down wedding cake - the farther out you fly, the higher you can go.)

Driving to Leesburg from Arlington on the Dulles Toll Road, I never thought the aerial view of the area could be so impressive.

From an altitude of 5,000 feet, I could see the fall foliage in Loudoun County, Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, Point of Rocks in Maryland - and even Smith's apartment complex in Frederick.

While Smith did most of the flying, he let me take the yoke to steer and try banking angles - a little more nerve-racking than handling a car!

After what seemed like just a few minutes, it was time to land, and with a gentle touch-down, we were back on the ground.

I'm not sure if I'll be going back for a second lesson soon, just because the time and money involved, but now, every time I hop in the car and find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I look longingly at the sky and get that itch to be up in the air again.

Kristen Armstrong had the opportunity to give flying a try in a new effort launched by a national aircraft owners' association.

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