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What to Expect on Your First Discovery Flight

What to Expect on Your First Discovery Flight

My heart was pounding as I took the controls of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk for the first time. Under the close supervision of an experienced instructor pilot Matthew, I gripped the yoke and made a few lazy circles over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix and felt the euphoria of flying. I now understand how flying gets in the blood of both professional and amateur pilots. In fact, I think I may be hooked!

At Honeywell, I spend a lot of time writing about airplanes and the people who fly them. So when I had the chance to take a Discovery Flight from Deer Valley Airport, I jumped at the opportunity to experience what it is like to fly a general aviation aircraft. It was amazing!

Discovery Flights are short introductory flights for people interested in learning about flying or taking the first step toward earning their pilot’s license. Every participant is assigned to a certified pilot instructor who walks you through the step-by-step procedure of how to safely fly an aircraft.

I met Matthew on the runway where the airplane was parked. Discovery Flights are often conducted in small single-engine aircraft, such as the Cessna 172 (pictured below), or a Piper aircraft. The flights are separated into three parts; preflight briefing, the flight itself and the post-flight briefing.


During my preflight briefing, Matthew explained what to expect during our flight and talked about important things such as safety, weather and the aircraft itself. Luckily for me, it was a calm Saturday morning with just a few clouds in sight – a perfect day for an eager (and a little nervous!) first-time pilot.

Next up was the safety walkaround. This is when you and your instructor walk around every inch of the aircraft, inspecting it for any cracks, loose screws or impairments that weren’t already logged from previous flights. After the walkthrough, we climbed into the aircraft and began the preflight checklist.

I was amazed at how many items were on the preflight checklist. It isn’t the same as stepping into your car, buckling the seatbelt, turning the key, placing it in drive and off you go. There are specific things you must check before takeoff, such as the amount of fuel you have, oil, battery life, etc.

I learned how to check the fuel levels in each of the tanks, which are in the wings. To do so, you step on the small step located by the wheels so you can reach the small screwed-in gas cap. You must unscrew the cap and make sure that each wing has enough fuel for your flight. Fun fact: the fuel is blue.


After making sure everything was triple-checked and good to go, we were ready to start up the engine and take off. My flight instructor opened his interactive map of the airport on his smartphone and walked me through how to correctly find the appropriate flight path.

The hardest part was taxiing the aircraft. I always thought steering an aircraft was done with the steering wheel or yoke – however, it’s a mix of both the steering wheel and the pedals on the floor of the aircraft. You balance back and forth with the pedals until you are on the center line of the runway. 

Once we were cleared for take-off we flew towards Lake Pleasant. After reaching a safe altitude, my instructor demonstrated how to do basic turns, climbs and descents. I took control soon after he was done demonstrating and it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

After circling around the lake for about 30 minutes it was time to head back to Deer Valley and the instructor took over the controls. He radioed the control tower and was given the okay to land. As he came in for a safe and uneventful landing – the best kind! – I was a little sad that our Discovery Flight was over.


After successfully landing the aircraft, we quickly taxied off the runway. After taxiing and shutting down the engine, my instructor gave me a quick overview describing how I did and what I should look out for in my next lesson. Finally, we tied down the aircraft in its locked position.

My first Discovery Flight was a huge success and an unforgettable experience for me. For anyone interested in learning to become a pilot or even wanting to fly just for fun – you can’t go wrong with a Discovery Flight. 

As for me, I can’t wait until my next opportunity to fly!

Kathryn Kearney
Content Marketing Specialist
Katie Kearney is the global content marketing specialist for Honeywell Aerospace.


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