June 7th, 2009

planet

the one airplane thing I've mastered

And now it's time for an entry about flying. For those who are new here, 1-2 times a week I post an entry about my experiences as the worst student pilot ever, so other students, pilots, flight instructors, aviation professionals and by now probably FAA officials can shake their heads in amazement at how crazy I can make this. I'm currently at about 11 hours, with no chance of ever soloing.

If you read my entries you might be thinking, "Isn't there anything about airplanes that our spacefem has mastered yet?" I'm tempted to say no. My takeoffs usually involve some moment of veering off in the wrong direction during climb, I have an uncanny ability to ignore radio communications, and I can only hold an altitude if it's NOT my selected one. Something about that little cyan pointer is a curse. But since I don't want to get down on myself too much I did remember something I've gotten good at: returning fuel samples to the fuel tank during preflight.

Fuel is very important to an airplane. It's also important to your car, but let's face it, if you get bad fuel or just run out, you can pull over. There's no pulling over in the air. So before every flight, we not only look at the fuel gages, but we visually look in the tanks to see if they match up, and we sample fuel from each tank into a clear cup so we can make sure it's the right color and contains ONLY fuel... no water, no dirt. We drain about 6-8 oz from drain points beneath the wing & nose, look at it carefully in the sunlight, then pour it back in the fuel tanks because dumping it on the ground would be bad for the asphalt and environment in general.

The fuel tank opening is on top of the wing, which is a bit above head level, so there are little foot places on the airplane you can use to get up there, and a place to hold on to:



But remember, you're doing this while holding a full cup of fuel that you'd rather not be wearing. You could ask your instructor to hold it, but this shows a level of dependence that you as a student pilot need to get past eventually. So you get some momentum, figure out where your feet go and just scatter up one-handed like a monkey. And let me tell you, I've got it down. The first few times I wasn't quite sure how to approach it, but after multiple lessons and a bit of trial and error, I'm very confident in my ability to get fuel from the sample cup back to its fuel tank home where it belongs. From both sides even... each wing has the same configuration, so if you know how to do this left-handed you've still got the right-handed configuration to go. But it's no step for this stepper.

And that's the one thing about airplanes that I feel good about.