Saturday, October 11, 2014

Flying from the Right Seat

We pull the plane out from its parking spot and then stand and look at each other. I realized he's waiting for me to get into the plane. I smile, gesture to the open door and hand him the plane's keys.

"You have to get in first," I say.
"Oh yeah," he says. "This happens a lot when I train CFIs."

He climbs in the plane and I'm in the unusual position of waiting for my CFI to strap into the left seat of the Arrow before I climb into the right seat. This is a position I'll be getting much more accustomed to as I do my training to become a CFI myself.

My CFI suggested we go ahead and get me flying from the right seat a bit earlier than he would normally. Mostly, he said, because I do so much flying in general that I may as well use that flight time to get extra practice flying from the right seat on my own as we continue to work on ground lessons. That works for me, I love flying from any seat and having some purpose to practice makes it even better.

When he first suggested this idea I figured I would take to it rather quickly because I have right seat time flying with my husband and flying as safety pilot for various people. Not to mention my first three flights where I had the controls were all from the right seat. I knew the view of the instruments would be different so I decided to do as much of the flying relying on outside queues as possible. I knew the centerline would be in a different place, my CFI and I discussed this extensively. What I failed to take into consideration was the strangeness of using my right hand on the control yoke, left hand on the throttle, prop, mixture, gear, flaps, trim, etc. and coordinating my right hand with my feet on the rudders.

We got in the plane and I looked at my CFI, "Aren't you going to start it?" "Nope, I'm just here to keep you from killing yourself. More important, keep you from killing me." He was serious about me doing all of the flying. I went through the startup checklists, feeling weird as my left had did the job my right normally does. I did my radio calls. My left hand had to be involved in that too as the PTT was on the left "thumb" of the right yoke. As I taxied out we worked on me learning the correct placement of the centerline from the right seat. It is very different than the left.

I had my CFI do the takeoff so I could just observe the correct sight picture from the right seat. He handed me the controls and I had to get used to coordinated flight without being able to use the "ball" in the turn coordinator. I hadn't realized how much I relied on that little ball to keep myself coordinated. It was good to not have the ball, I had to fine tune my feel of the plane. We got out of RHV airspace and did some steep turns. Turns to the right I kept altitude nailed but my bank angle was between 30 and 60 degrees. Going left I climbed like crazy. It took a bit of work to get that going well.

Next up, power on and power off stalls. Once again, my crutches, the ASI and turn coordinator were out of reach so I had to keep coordinated by feel, keep wings level by looking outside and just pitch up until I could feel the stall on the edge of a break. We did power on first, then power off. No problem. Strange thing was, I didn't feel nervous or anxious at all doing them. Maybe I was too busy to be nervous? I don't know but it was a nice thing to not have that anxiousness. We did an emergency descent to get down to pattern altitude at South County. Time to do some landings!

I had him demonstrate a landing first, he did OK ;) then I did a take off, weaving all over the runway it seemed as I tried to coordinate my feet trying to line up the centerline with the left seat occupant instead of myself. I finally took off and we both laughed about how I was on the centerline at least once, maybe twice, on that take off roll. I struggled with the radio calls as I was thinking so hard about what my left hand needed to do. Finally before turning base I asked my CFI to take over on the radio so I could concentrate on landing the plane.

The plane was flailing left to right and back again as my right hand over controlled and my feet didn't quite match my hand's movements. In spite of that I landed safely and directionally aligned if not on the centerline. He suggested next time don't try to line him up on the centerline, just line things up visually like I would normally. That way I could focus a bit more on flying and less on the abnormal centerline view. That worked better for me and each additional time around the pattern I got better in all phases. My second time around I was even able to do all of the radio work.

We did 5 landings in South County and he asked me after the fifth how I felt. The familiar question ... Did I think I would kill myself flying from the right seat. I said No. I was struggling with putting the plane exactly where I wanted it but I was able to do everything else I needed to do in spite of the strangeness. I suggested we do one more flight together and then I'd be comfortable practicing this on my own.

The flight back to RHV was uneventful. I did a not a great landing but not too bad considering. The debrief was very positive. He said all things considered I did rather well. He didn't have to take the controls once, or even say a word so I could fly and land safely from the right seat. That was nice to hear.  Next flight I will work on airplane control first. Getting my right hand and feet working as one just like my left hand and feet do.  Once I get precise control of the plane (again!) I will work on getting used to lining up the plane on the centerline differently.

In the mean time I'm starting to study for the first of the three written tests and keep working on my lesson plans and syllabi. I am targeting passing the written tests by the end of the year. That will keep me plenty busy! :)

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