Levelling off at 2500 feet was a little bit of a challenge as the concept of a VSI was thrown in for good measure. “What the heck is a VSI?” I politely asked. You’re always polite to the instructor when you realise that the only way that you’ll survive your first flight is by their good graces. “The VSI is the Vertical Speed Indicator and when you are level it should read zero.” was the patient reply.
I imagine that we’ve all done it. Chasing the VSI is almost like a game the first time you fly. I sometimes wonder whether instructors have a perverse sense of humour watching a rookie chase the VSI up and down for a while prior to telling them about holding attitudes etc.
Next came the DG. I jumped in quickly when I heard yet another acronym and was quickly told that the DG is the Directional Gyro or in other words, “where you are going”. I’m glad that I wasn’t told at this stage about caging, aligning the DG with the magnetic compass etc.
So by this time, I’ve forgotten about the ASI and concentrated on the DG, VSI and Altimeter and it wasn’t long before all of them got out of kilter and the instructor gently set the controls right again. Flying lopsided isn’t a really pleasant experience so the Artificial Horizon (AH) and Turn and Balance were brought into play and I felt my brain expand in another order of magnitude. I momentarily thought about the level of expansion will be in direct proportion to the headache later that night.
It wasn’t long before I was scanning the instruments in a methodical pattern, one after the other making sure that they were where they were supposed to be. It was helped greatly by the introduction of the “trim wheel” – thank goodness! The one problem was that my head was staring at instruments and I completely forgot about the fact that I may be about to fly into the side of a mountain. Looking outside of the cockpit is always a good thing, there’s no point looking at the Altimeter to tell you that you are steady at 3000 feet if you plough into the side of a 4000 foot mountain.
So there I was on my very first flight developing a scan of the same basic instruments that I saw at the cinema in “The Battle of Britain” and “Top Gun”. The sheer pleasure of a little knowledge was intoxicating! My dream was becoming a reality. I was on my way to becoming a pilot.
As time flew by and quite a few Warriors later I had the opportunity to learn how all of the instruments worked (I also found out about the GPS) and further develop my instrument scanning techniques until finally I was awarded my PPL. Everything was great until I saw a notice advertising new planes for hire!
I admit it; I’m a sucker for new stuff so off I went to find out what a new Archer was like to fly. After hopping into the left hand seat I glanced up to see that my beloved instruments had been replaced by a “display”. Sure the cockpit dash was clean as a whistle but a big black rectangle was not nearly as impressive as a mass of dials.
Don’t get me wrong, I work with computers 12 hours each day but the impact of a glass cockpit after 8 months of training was a little off-putting. I took a deep breath and after a few checks I looked for the key slot to start the engine only to discover that the venerable tried and true “turn the key to start the plane and test the magnetos” had also been replaced by a couple of buttons. Hmmmfff! I think this aircraft is fast getting on my wrong side!
What was great was the fact that they’d left an old analogue ASI to the left of the glass screen so my old 65 knots was happily being displayed by a needle as we rotated off the runway. Thank goodness for that! The instructor and I headed out to the training area and he took me through the many features of the glass cockpit.
He openly related the fact that it took him a few hours to get used to everything but now he absolutely loved the flexibility and useability that the glass cockpit provides. I was dubious about his claims but endeavoured to keep an open mind.
It wasn’t long before the twin screen Avidyne flight management system combined with the dual Garmin 430s and autopilot won me over. Having all of the instruments summarised on one screen while I flicked between the flight plan and engine management on the other was nothing short of brilliant.