Two weeks of bliss (Pt. 1)
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
I was away for summer holidays in Dubai and in the United States. I got to fly Alaska Airlines on their newer 737-900s with scimitars, Delta's 737 and 757, Riddle's Cessna 172s and on Emirates' 777s. Huh, something seems out of place there. Isn't Riddle a flying school? It is, and that's where I spent half of my vacation.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has a fleet of 56 Cessna 172 aircraft and around 10 Diamond DA-42s. It's got two branches: one in Prescott, Arizona and one in Daytona Beach, Hurricane State (also known as Florida.) I ended up going to the branch in Hurricane State, as it is more popular than the Arizona one. Embry-Riddle is quite a big meme in the aviation community, which further cements it;s place as a well-known and loved flying school.
As I stepped (or rather drove) into the campus, my first thought was about it's size. It was pretty huge, with buildings spread out all over the place. It did require a lot of walking though, as I was about to find out soon.
My home for the next two weeks was in a building called Apollo Hall, which was fairly new and had 4 floors. Apollo Hall had a recreation room at the ground floor, and the dormitories for me and my fellow campers were on the 4th floor, along with a central lobby where you could catch views of the ramp and runway, which is a dream for every avgeek, including me. Each of the rooms was like a suite, with the shower, toilet and kitchenette just as you enter and then it splits up into two dorms which accommodate two people each. The views from my dorm were just like the lobby, and it looked quite like this:
There are commercial flights that operate to and from Daytona Beach, as well as the frequent takeoffs and landings of Riddle planes which never made plane spotting dull for me.
Except for the first and last nights, we ate at the Student Union, which was the building I visited the most throughout the 2 weeks. Not only did it contain the dining area, but it also had the "bookstore", which was basically a souvenir shop, a pool table, two table tennis tables which we used at night, many seating areas, a video gaming room, and a Starbucks. (I got the chance to try the video game room but it took the whole hour I had for the game to load, which was a waste, and we weren't allowed into the Starbucks)
Now onto some important action: the flying! I first received a badge which allowed me to access the ramp (with an instructor, of course) and you could only access the ramp through a specific building and after a quick briefing, which was the norm. You also had a metal clipboard with the registration of an aircraft (keep in mind that the fleet consists of almost 70 aircraft). The registrations were structured with an N, three numbers from 300-499 and an ER at the end (N___ER) and from the three numbers in your registration you knew which aircraft you were flying:
- if it's in the 300s you were flying the Diamond DA-42 (which is what I was not flying)
- if it's in the 400s you were flying the Cessna 172s (what I flew!)
- Bonus: if it's 470 or above you get a chance to fly in one of the newer Cessnas with a different display font and autopilot (also what I flew!)
There were three rows of parking for all the aircraft and around 25 parking spots per row, which can end up being a very long walk if you're unlucky enough. From the briefing to finding the parking spot, all that happened by transitioning through Flight Ops, which is the specific building you need to access as I talked about earlier:
In this flight camp I was more involved in the flight process than I was expecting to be, getting to call out to ATC, taxi, takeoff, set waypoints on the GPS, and land the plane. A welcome surprise! During the last day in both camps, I'd say I flew around 85% of the flight. The Cessna 172 airplanes looked the same on the outside, but were of varying age on the inside: some needed a facelift, some were literally brand new. Luckily, I experienced both types of planes. All the planes had big, crisp displays and (thankfully) working levers, switches, buttons and pedals.
There were a few different places I flew to over the two weeks I stayed for. Here is a map of places I actually flew to and fro:
While these places may look far on this map, the longest flight I flew (which was to Gainesville) was only 84 miles (135 km), It took us just under an hour to get there, while it would have taken twice the time by car. Besides these places, I mostly flew in a practice area which spanned 460 square miles. There even was one session where I just did touch-and-goes at Daytona Beach.
During flying, I also learned some aerobatic maneuvers like stalls and steep spirals. I learned three types of stalls: power on stall, power off stall, and falling leaf stall:
Power on stall - this is when your throttle is 3/4 full, your flaps are fully down and you pull back on the yoke to start pitching up. It will take a bit of time, but eventually you will stall and you just have to gain speed and stabilize your plane to recover.
Power off stall - it's quite similar to a power on stall, except you pull the throttle all the way back which makes you stall quicker. You then have to apply power during recovery.
Falling leaf stall - this is when you execute a power off stall, but you keep on pulling the yoke toward you and the plane starts to roll side to side. You will lose a lot of altitude so make sure you recover by 1500 feet.
Besides stalls, I also learned how to perform steep rolls and spirals toward the ground:
Steep roll - This is when you either apply aileron (left or right) for a bank angle of 30 degrees or more and you pull back on the yoke, from which you start to rapidly turn in a circular motion. If at any time you let go of the yoke, the plane will stop rolling.
Steep spiral - This is when you use a landmark on the ground (ideally right below you) and you commence a steep descent toward it. You then perform multiple rolls during the descent and level off at 1000 feet. Make sure to pull the throttle to idle otherwise you'll end up finishing the spiral way faster than expected.
I also helped with pre-flight and post-flight duties, such as inspecting the plane from the outside, applying and removing chocks (blocks which go in front of and behind the wheels to prevent then from moving), tying down the aircraft with chains, and putting restraining blocks on the airplane's elevators and ailerons to also prevent them from moving.
Overall, I found this to be an experience of a lifetime. I have definitely learnt a lot and this will not be forgotten. However, flying isn't the only thing I did during my stay in the camp, and those experiences will make this blog far too long to read...