My First Flight Lesson (circa 1980)


Words cannot capture the thrill I experienced on my first instructional flight with Evelyn Bryan Johnson. Before we ever left the ground, Evelyn taught me that safety was a fundamental aviation principal. “Eric, when we go up there in the air, we take a risk so, we must do all we can to insure the safety of our passengers, ouraircraft, and those on the ground around us,” she said as we walked toward the plane that first day.


“As we approach that airplane Eric, look at it from a distance for any obvious dents, missing parts, low tires, or anything that seems out of place,” Evelyn taught. When walked up to the doors of the airplane, Evelyn pulled out the Cessna 150’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) and she thoroughly reviewed the entire book with me. She turned to the Checklist Procedures section and proceeded to teach me how to “pre-flight” the aircraft.   “OK Eric, say out loud each item, then insure the item is verified,” She said. “Control Wheel Lock – Remove,” I called out. Then I removed the device from the yoke (steering control wheel) and placed it in the side pocket. “Ignition Switch – Off,” I said, and then I verified. Several minutes later, we had checked the tires, oil levels, fuel levels, and each control surface. We drained the fuel to insure there was no water present in the tanks. I had just completed my first pre-flight inspection.

c150 instrument panel

After a clumsy and flawed taxi to the runway, I was at the controls of this little airplane, sitting at the “Hold Short” line of Runway 23 at Morristown Municipal Airport. I was only 15 years old and ready to take to the air as a “student pilot.” Evelyn made our radio call, “Morristown Traffic, this is Cessna 5447 Bravo, taking off Runway 23.” With Evelyn’s assistance, I pushed the throttle forward slightly, and awkwardly used the rudder pedals and brakes to taxi into position, and then with Evelyn’s urging, I pushed the throttle all the way forward and we started to roll. Immediately Evelyn said, “Heels on the floor Eric.” That was Evelyn’s way of telling me to move my feet down off the brakes, and to use the rudder pedals only during the takeoff roll. “Call it out Eric, Airspeed is alive, Oil Pressure and Temperature in the Green, RPM’s full,” She instructed. These were additional safety callouts Evelyn taught me, which to this day, I use on every flight.

airspeed indicator

With her right hand on the yoke on her side of the plane, and my left hand on my yoke on my side and my other hand on the throttle (with Evelyn your hand had always better be on the throttle), we were rolling down the runway. As we approached 45-50 knots, Evelyn said, “Pull back gently on the yoke Eric, there you go, hold that, nice job.” We were flying! I was thrilled! I was a pilot. “See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

“See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

We eventually leveled off and Evelyn taught me to position the cowling of the nose of the aircraft, approximately three to four inches below the horizon, and to verify that I was not climbing or descending, by cross-checking it on the altimeter and vertical speed indicators. She also taught me to maintain a constant heading, by keeping the wings level, and at the same time, keeping the nose of the aircraft pointed at a consistent reference point on the ground, some distance ahead of us. “We then verify that we are maintaining a consistent heading using the Directional Gyro, Eric,” she reminded me.

Keeping my “head outside of the cockpit” was essential, and constantly scanning for traffic was a discipline Evelyn instilled in me from the beginning.  “As your eyes move in small increments across the sky from left to right, be vigilant for other aircraft Eric,” she said. Vigilance for other aircraft was a safety principal Evelyn lived by, one she taught me from day one, and one I teach my students every time we are in the aircraft.  Whether taxing, maneuvering in the air, or making a cross-country flight, scanning for other aircraft is always “safety first” in aviation.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 2.26.17 PM

Eventually, the Hobbs meter indicated that our first flight was about to end and Evelyn inquired, “Let’s head back home; do you know where the airport is located Eric?” “No ma’am, I am a bit lost,” I said. “OK, where is the lake,” she asked. “Over there on our left,” I said proudly. “Good, now where is the main highway,” she inquired. “On our right,” I said. “OK, with the lake on our left and the main highway on our right, follow the road North,” she said. I exclaimed with glee, “There it is, there it is, I see it over there.!”

Evelyn grinned and said, “Good work Eric, now you know how to find the airport.” Eventually, we worked our way back to the traffic pattern, and Evelyn allowed me to keep my hand on the yoke and feet on the rudder pedals, even until we touched down and rolled off the runway. I never forgot that first lesson, and all she taught me on that first flight.  To this day, I still share some of that same knowledge with the students. After my first flight, I spent several more lessons going over the basics of flight:  how to turn the aircraft, initiate climbs and descents, execute climbing turns and descending turns, and we eventually explored slow flight, stalls, and traffic pattern flying.  My goodness, I was having so much fun!

In my next blog post, I will share with you some memories of the instructional flights that led up to my eventual “first solo flight” on 18 August 1981 (my 16th birthday).   I look forward to sharing that story with you in a few weeks.


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