American Heirlooms - May 2020


MAY 2020


Finding ourselves with more time on our hands, my boys and I have been perusing “The American Boy’s Handy Book.” We are thoroughly enjoying the how-to information we have been finding in the book. In that spirit, I wanted to share the first piece of a three-part series on how to fly a small plane. I would encourage you to learn more and try it on your own, but here’s a brief introduction to preparing for takeoff in a Cessna 150 from my personal, firsthand experience! To begin, you have to plan your flight, and this starts with navigation. The maps pilots use are called sectionals, and the course is plotted with visual checkpoints. Today, people can bypass this with GPS, but the training I took required me to use cordless, paper sheets that could be drawn on. I recommend learning the same way so you know how to use the analog version. Next, you must plan for the weather. For example, wind will push you off course, but if you know the wind direction and speed, you can compensate for it in your planning. In addition, thunderstorms and high winds create turbulence that can be uncomfortable and unsafe. (I had an instructor compare turbulence to potholes in a road: No one enjoys them!) Overcast skies may mean that the clouds are too low for you to steer around if you are flying under the Visual Flight Rules. And rain often restricts visibility. Even if it doesn’t, you run the risk of flying in low cloud cover rather just having rain splatter on the windshield.

Then you must complete one of the most important steps in your process: fuel planning. It’s usually best to begin with a full tank, unless a load of people or baggage does not allow it, which is related to weight planning. Planes are rated to only take on certain weight limits, and this can mean restricting your fuel. It’s important that you do not exceed the weight limits.

Finally, you’re ready to complete your takeoff checklist on the little Cessna 150.

• Turn on the master switch and move the plane’s flaps all the way down. This allows you to visually check the hinges and linkages. • Visually check the fuel level by taking off the fuel caps, and don’t forget to check the oil level. • Take fuel samples to verify no water has accumulated in the tank. If water is present, begin draining the water from the fuel tank (into a container) until the fuel is clear. Keep in mind that the fuel is lighter than water, so the water settles out at the bottom of the tanks. The sumps are put at the lowest places for this very reason. Water will make your engine miss, lose power, or — even worse — shut off, which adds more adrenaline and variety to your flight than most folks enjoy. • Walk around the outside of the plane and visually check all the tires, wheels, and brakes for anything odd.

• Disconnect the tie-downs and remove any covers from the engine intake and pitot tube. The covers keep birds and bugs from taking up residence in the machine while it’s parked. If the weather allows you to fly and the machine checks out okay, you are ready to remove the chocks and get seated. From there, adjust the seat so you can reach the rudder pedals. Fasten your seat belt, test the brakes, turn the master switch on, flip the fuel handle on, and turn carb heat on, the mixture to rich, and the ignition to both. Then throttle it out one-fourth and shout “clear prop” out the window. Lastly, turn the key to start, check for climbing oil pressure, then out the window as you taxi up to the run-up area.

Tune in next month as we discuss more about getting your Cessna into the air.

–Ethan Zimmerman

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