Diary of a Student Pilot

David Walker writes about his experiences as he learns how to fly, after winning a competition to become a pilot.


Part 3. Take off…

Wow! Just four lessons in, and today I did my first ever take off…………. Sideways!!!

At the start of each lesson, you have the pre-flight briefing. Here’s where you find out what you are doing for the day and have a chance to ask any questions. You then do the exercise and then once you land it’s back to the briefing room again to run through what you’ve covered.

Lesson number four and as I park the car, I’ve no idea what lays ahead of me. My instructor tells me I’m going to be doing one of the more difficult procedures, which actually sounds one of the easiest – straight and level flight. He says he will take off, then hand over the controls and I will do the exercise. With that, I’m requested to go out to the aircraft and start the external pre-flight checks.

Checks complete, we board, and I start the internal checks. Master switch, Fuel pump, Primer etc. The engine is fired up and we start our taxy to the end of the runway. But before we get there, I’m guided through how to make both sharp and wide turns on the ground. There are three of us on the side of the runway all making the same movements, and as we each do donuts left and right, I feel on the outside it must look as though we’re doing the flying equivalent of dancing on Strictly!

As we make our way up, I’m guided to the end of the runway. All the time I’m listening to what my instructor says and I’m thinking he’s going to take over any second now. But he doesn’t. We’re at the end, the runway is stretching out in front of us, and he says… “off you go”.

Oh no I think but decide to do what he tells me. The engine is revved up, the brakes are released, and we start to hurtle down 800m of grass. Gaining speed, I’m concentrating like mad to steer with my feet and keep it straight. There’s a 12-knot wind coming in from the southwest and before I know it, we’re starting to climb. The wind pushes us around to the left and I try to correct but overdo it so now we’re going to the right. Another steer to the left and we sway sideways again. A few more wobbles and I realise I’m fighting the controls really hard. My biceps are solid, and I say to my instructor this is tough. He replied, “trim it then”. I do this and suddenly, I go from fighting like hell, to, aaahhhhhhhhh bliss…

The rest of the lesson continues, and we practice straight and level flying at different heights and speeds first heading out to Warminster, followed by Wincanton and then towards Poole harbour. I learn about using the balance ball, F.R.E.D.A. checks, Q-NH and Q-FE settings on the Altimeter and even do a little bit of basic radio operation as we make our heading back to Compton.

1 – Direction Indicator. 2 – Airspeed indicator. 3 – Balance ball. 4 – Altimeter.

Given how I wobbled on the take off I check to ensure it will be my instructor who will be landing us. He say’s yes and I’m relieved. We approach the airfield on what’s known as the “Dead” side, followed by running parallel to the runway in the “Downwind leg” and eventually onto the “Final” where my instructor then took over to land us.

We park up, shutdown and head back to the briefing room where we run through the exercise. This course is challenging but incredibly awesome, and to think that only two months ago I didn’t even know the names of the instruments, let alone be doing a take-off. I feel that I’ve already learnt an almighty amount and yet I’m sure I’ve not even scratched the surface. If you want to have a go at flying an aircraft to see for yourself how thrilling this is, then click here for details of pleasure flights over the amazing and beautiful Dorset countryside.


F.R.E.D.A. Checks – the listing below is just a general overview and is not the full information.

  1. Fuel – Check levels.
  2. Radio – Tuned and ready to obtain information.
  3. Engine – Checking for Temperature, Pressures, (T’s & P’s), Mixture, Carb icing.
  4. Direction – Synchronising the Direction Indicator (DI) with the compass.
  5. Altimeter – Setting the Q-NH and Q-FE as required.

What does Q-NH and Q-FE stand for?

This goes back to the second world war and those magnificent men in their flying machines. The Q codes are a series of acronyms used to provide various elements of information that can be absorbed quickly.

Q – NH (No Height) is the regional barometer pressure setting at an airfield above sea level.

Q – FE (Field Elevation) is the atmospheric pressure at aerodrome elevation.

This information is then entered into the altimeter which in turn gives you the height at which you are flying at.

There are many more Q codes but these will be explained more as I progress with the lessons.


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