Published Date Written by Timothy GillisWhile it takes 40 hours of flight school to get your pilot's license, you can get airborne within 40 minutes, with the help of a certificated flight instructor from Maine Aviation Flight School.
Chip Lawrence, a Freeport-based pilot, offered this reporter the chance to get his wings recently, with a micro-lesson from flight school, a quick pre-flight check of the plane's parts and functions, and a guided lesson mid-air over the coast of southern Maine.
Lawrence, a retired Navy pilot who started flying when he was 23, flew helicopters for eight years for the military and was stationed on two carriers, the USS Saratoga and the USS America, off the coast of Bosnia.
He used a model airplane and a marker board to demonstrate the physics of flying in a quick review of key terms and plane parts before we hit the runway.
He drew a rudimentary picture of an airplane, and showed with the model the four ways a plane moves, with a straight level flight, climbs, descents, and turns.
"It's like driving, but it's in 3D," Lawrence said. Then he went on to discuss the forces acting on an aircraft as he added arrows to the marker-board depiction.
The four forces that act on a plane and influence flight are 1) thrust, in front of a plane, 2) lift, above it, 3) drag, behind it, and 4) weight, below it.
To fly, a pilot must manipulate thrust and drag. For example, to speed up, s/he adds thrust.
"You're trying to get all four forces to be equal for an airplane to 'cruise,' Lawrence said, keeping the plane at a constant velocity and altitude.
The four controls the pilot needs to maintain are 1) the throttle, which controls thrust, 2) the elevator, which controls pitch, 3) the ailerons, which deal with rolling and banking, and 4) the rudder, which affects yaw or rotation. To add some complexity to the maneuvers, elevator, ailerons, and rudder operate in three dimensions. For example, to climb, you add thrust and lift, Lawrence said.
A pilot must always keep an eye on three things: altitude, directional control, and airspeed, and must always maintain two of these at once when changing the other one, he said.
The day of our flight was a windy one, but still safe for even a beginner's inaugural run. Lawrence and I were heading to check out Old Orchard Beach from 4,000 feet.
The single-engine Cessna had two seats in front and two in back, with two sets of pilot's controls which functioned together. I asked Lawrence what happens if I make a mistake.
"Let's hope I'm stronger than you," he said.
We went through an extensive pre-flight checklist, observing all external parts of the plane, wings, flaps, wheels, and even the possible water level in the gas tank.
Once all of the pre-flight checklist items were ticked off, we scrunched our way into the front seats. We donned headsets so as to be able to talk to each other during the flight, over the noisy roar of the engine. We taxied the plane down the runway using the rudder pedals.
Before I knew it, we are airborne.
The queasiness of the stomach and dizziness of the brain combine to keep my cockiness in check, and I defer most of the flying to Lawrence. Soon though, I can sense the attraction to being so far above everything, and I'm able to submerge the fear of falling. I take a few turns myself, trying to get used to steering with my feet as well as my hands. The landing is as smooth and quick as the take-off, and once grounded, I realize most of my fears were unfounded.
To get a license, one needs to spend 40 hours in flight school. Lawrence has 2,000 hours of flight time. He just started instructing three months ago. He and his wife, Janet, own and operate Maple Hill Bed and Breakfast in Freeport.
Lawrence also loves to sail, and considers flying and sailing to be his two main passions. When he got out of the Navy, his wife asked him to stop flying.
"Then, after a short while, she told me to go back to it," he said. "She says I'm much nicer when I'm flying."
Visit learntofly.com for information on how you can fly a plane with fearless comfort and ease.