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Pilot for a Day: First Flight Lesson in a Cessna 172

vanessa griffin stafford flight

I have always wanted to fly an airplane. About six years ago, I actually went to ground school in California, but realized soon after that the actual flight training was outside the budget of a Warner Bros. production assistant. I never took my exams and reset my focus on other, more realistic, endeavors.

The curiosity resurfaced when I moved back to the DC area a couple years ago. I researched airports, piloting programs, as well as women’s piloting clubs in the area. Yesterday, I was finally able to take my first introductory flying lesson at Dulles Aviation. Completely unable to recall anything that I had learned at ground school, I was essentially starting from scratch.

For $120, I was able to get a flight lesson in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk II and a pilot log book. The overall experience was approximately an hour, with a small briefing on the ground and the remaining time in flight. I wasn’t really nervous, just overwhelmed at the amount of information that I was trying to absorb. Luckily, the flight instructor was next to me the entire time and provided me the “training wheels” that I needed to successfully complete the mission at hand.

I was to fly from Manassas Regional Airport (HEF) to Warrenton-Fauquier Airport (HWY), a distance of nearly 20 miles. Although it was not a great distance, it was sufficient getting used to the controls and feeling of the aircraft. In fact, I was so focused on what the instructor was telling me to do on the control panel, I hardly noticed that we had ascended so far into the air. When I finally did grasp the situation, it was surreal…as if the impact of our height, and the fact that I was at the controls, hadn’t quite hit me. It wasn’t until the Cessna hit a couple air pockets that I was shaken into reality. However, my instructor was obviously extremely competent, and I felt confident that I was in good hands.

vanessa griffin stafford blog

One of the areas in which I had the most difficulty was steering on the ground. It was natural for me to try and rely on steering with my hands (as with a car), instead of using the foot movements required to steer the plane while on land. The other hesitancy was slowing down the plane while in the air. It would seem that full throttle was necessary as to not plummet to the earth, but the speed has to be brought way down in order to land. It’s just a strange feeling…almost like you are merely gliding down to the landing strip.

I would love to continue lessons and earn my pilot’s license. The idea of being able to fly across the country at anytime is extremely appealing to me. However, this is a project that I would take in stride due to the cost of the entire process. I would like to retake ground school to remember the basics and how the airplane functions from a mechanical point-of-view. Until then, I am content with my experience and recommend it to anyone who has dreamed of getting into the air!

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