Most people will never get the chance to fly an airplane. They will never get to experience the thrill of soloing for the first time or the terror of dodging crows at 100 mph. Most people will be familiar with the sensation of your stomach settling somewhere around your knees or your throat while on a roller coaster, well, flying an airplane makes that feel like walking down a flight of stairs. First off, I have to begin by describing to you just what an airplane looks like, in and out. Well, on the outside most small general aviation aircraft have a thin, cloth skin stretched over an aluminum skeleton for strength. The aircraft has four surfaces that control how the pilot can manipulate the plane in flight. On the outside trailing edge of the wings are the ailerons, they control how much the airplane rolls when the pilot turns the yoke (similar to a steering wheel in a vehicle) either right or left. On the inside of the wings, close to the body of the plane, are the flaps.
They are used to produce extra lifting force at slower speeds, they are controlled by a handle in between the pilot and co-pilot seats. At the rear of the airplane on a flat surface parallel to the wings is the elevator, the pilot can move the yoke in or out to move the elevator either up or down, thus either lifting the tail for the plane to dive, or lowering the tail for the plane to climb. Above the elevator is a vertical control surface called the rudder, which the pilot controls with foot pedals to turn the plane left or right. Now a plane can be either high- or low-wing. Most of the aircraft at Henderson State University are high-wing, which means the wings are at the top of the body of the aircraft and not at the bottom. Our airplanes have what is known as tricycle gear, which means there are two wheels beneath the body of the plane where the wings are, and one beneath the nose of the airplane. Most planes have between six and nine lights, two on the rudder, two on either wingtip, one or two on the leading edge of either wing close to the body, and sometimes one beneath the propeller. Now onto the inside of the aircraft.
It is a complete mystery the first time someone looks into an aircraft. No one knows what button, knob, or switch does what. Just off the top of my head, I can count over five multi-colored knobs, seventeen switches, and at least forty buttons. The seats in our aircraft at HSU are simple, uncomfortable, but functional grey sliding seats. I just wish the engineer that designed our aircraft had actually been forced to use the seats. You can barely see out of the windshield in them, they are so low the seatbelt practically saws your neck in half by the time you get out at the end of your flight. That’s about it for looks, lets check in on how it sounds. Each airplane has its own personality, so each noise is different, however they are all much the same. Here are a few of my favorites.
As you tow the monstrously heavy plane out of the hangar onto the ramp, the sticking brakes squeal like scared mice, the low pressure tires slap on the tarry pavement like a seal clapping for his ball, the nose gear whines like a five year old wanting a cookie, and the unlatched doors slam open and shut like car doors on Black Friday. Some of the planes are worse than others though. One of the planes when it starts, you automatically know that someone is flying this certain plane, it sounds closer to a rocket about to takeoff as opposed to a car without a muffler accelerating. When you are in the plane about to start it up, the low hum of conversation fills the cabin. As the pilot makes a few last adjustments to the throttle, primer, and mixture knobs, the conversation ceases and the all important call of “CLEAR PROP!” breaks the silence.
When the pilot turns the ignition, the engine coughs and wheezes into life, as it slowly comes to speed with a roar that would put a lion to shame. How does an airplane feel you might ask? Well, each control is different to help you learn which is which during a night flight or an emergency situation. For example, the primer is ridged with a diamond pattern, similar to what would be on a trucks toolbox, while the only thing that is smooth for the pilot is the yoke. Another example would be the throttle control knob, it is ridged except it has small dots on it instead of a diamond pattern. Everything in the cabin is learned by muscle memory, a pilot has to get out and fly, or he can not be the best pilot possible.
Flying an airplane is a tiring task, not just mentally, but physically. The pilot has to constantly hold pressure on the yoke, either backward or forward to keep the craft flying like he or she wants it to fly. Well, with that all said, those are the best ways to describe an aircraft that I know how. Out of the five senses, those are the ones best suited to describing a plane, sight, sound, and touch. I would not want to taste an airplane and they really do not have a noticeable smell, to me anyway.