Flying Around Texas
This is your captain speaking...
While I was home with my family in Allen, a small town a few miles north of Dallas, I got to catch up with one of our neighbors. He recently received his pilot's licence and belongs to a flying club in the area, and spoke with such excitement about the joy he experiences when he flies a plane. Ever the adrenaline-chaser, I mentioned that I'd love to try flying one day. A week before I left to travel for the holidays, he calls me to say he scheduled a time for me to go up for a test flight. I approach new opportunities very much like Holly Golightly and replied, "Well, I've never flown a plane before. I'll be there."
I assumed I'd be riding as a passenger for the first flight, or would only get to fly after sitting through an instructional course. Yet right after I signed the liability waiver, I was whisked out to the lot and jumped right into a plane. It was a two-seater propeller aircraft, as the most junior license you can receive is a Sport Pilot License. I wouldn't be surprised if it was lighter than my Chevy truck! As tall as I am, I still needed a little booster pillow to see over the dashboard.
I buckled my cross-body seat-belt and looked over at Chris, the instructor, expecting a full run-down on how the plane operates. At this point, I knew I was expected to fly the plane myself with Chris running an overriding set of controls like a Driver's Ed instructor would. Instead, he had me turn on the engine and instructed me how to drive: press the left pedal to go left, and the right to go right. I tried to follow the white line leading to the runway as best I could, but I'm pretty sure Chris was doing most of the steering!
We stopped the plane on the edge of the runway. Chris pulled out a checklist from the seat pocket and proceeded to have me flip various switches and calibrate a few computer systems. The propeller buzzes on, the wing flaps raise. I shakily called the control tower and tried to ask permission to take off, but I went too slow! Just like in the movies, you have to speak in radio lingo. For instance, we left out of Gate R, which to the control tower is "Gate Romeo." All of the pilots and ground control personnel in the area share one frequency so time is valuable; if you drone on or waiver in any way, you're taking time away from someone else who might need it. The radio lingo might as well have been Spanish to me because I needed Chris to translate the operator's shorthand into clear directions on where to take the plane.
Again, poised and ready on the runway, I turned to Chris and waited for detailed directions on how to fly this plane. Chris points to the T-shaped lever between us and tells me to push it forward. Thinking this was still part of the prep work, I push hard on the lever with a little too much confidence. The plane zooms down the runway and drifts into the sky before I can fully register that I've just taken off!
We're airborne, and I can't stop giggling with what I'm sure is a mix of giddiness and nervous laughter. Unable to take my eyes off the airspace, I ask Chris for some direction. How do I steer, what direction do I go in, what altitude should I get to? Surely now, I'd get some instruction. All Chris said was he'd correct me if we got in too precarious of a situation. You would think taking a little vehicle thousands of feet into the air, driven by someone who has no idea what she's doing or where she's going, would be cause for some alarm... if not for me, then for him! But Chris's cool demeanor allowed me to trust myself an fly the plane with as much confidence as one can in such a situation.
Flying such a small plane called for the smallest of movements because the control stick is so sensitive. You really can't even grip it because the plane will jerk back and forth. Rather, you sort of balance the stick between your thumb and forefinger- yes, that's all flying a plane takes! Before I got the hang of it, I was tilting and dipping us quite a bit, plus there was a cold front breezing through and we hit a lot of rough air pockets. After about thirty minutes, I was pretty nauseous from all the turbulence. Over highway 75 running through Addison, Texas, I had Chris grab the controls and fly us back to the airport.
While I was trying not to be the first person to get sick in that plane, I could still enjoy the flying experience. Downtown Dallas shimmered in the distance like Oz, and I could even pick out the Comerica building where I used to work. White bulbous water towers marked the names of each small town like little white tags in a garden. The midday sun warmed my face and I was glad I'd chosen to wear my black Ray Ban aviators.
We had to circle the airspace for a while until the runway was clear for us until finally we came speeding back onto that runway. I'm so glad I had that experience but I definitely don't have a strong enough stomach to pursue a pilot's license. In any case, it's on to the next adventure...