Did you hear about the state-wide TFR that was issued last Saturday? Did you hear they brought in the National Guard and evacuated the streets? Did you hear they put a special NTSB go-team on stand-by? OK, so none of that really happened. But it should have. Because THIS happened:
Yes, you are seeing that correctly. Someone was crazy enough to let me take the controls of an airplane while it was in the air. How on earth did this happen?
Let me start with a confession. Until this past weekend, I had never been up in a small plane before. Heck, I haven’t even flown commercially in ages. And to be honest, I’ve never had any desire to be a pilot. Yet somehow I found myself pulling up at a small municipal airport on a gorgeous sunny day looking for a CFI named Greg who clearly didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
Then again, maybe he did. He was smart enough to be based at an airport with no stairs trucks, plows or broom trucks to distract me. But what it did have was a nice 5,000 ft runway and lots of very cool airplanes sitting around. Among them, his Mooney:
I complimented Greg on his lovely airplane and told him how much I appreciated his willingness to take me up in it, however I felt he should know that that there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to fly it. He just laughed and asked if I knew anything about the physics of flight. He then proceeded to talk about the wings and lift and other related topics, at which point I knowingly nodded my head and said, “Ah yes, Delta P.”
Apparently he doesn’t listen to the Airline Pilot Guy podcast because he made no comment. Instead he ignored my fit of giggles and handed me a checklist. He pointed to the walk-around items and told me to read them out loud. So I read the checklist and we walked around the airplane, examining each thing on the list.
After that it was time to climb in and get ready to go. He helped me with the door and my headset and went over a few safety procedures. He also pointed out the attitude, altitude and speed indicators, along with a few other items on the instrument panel.
At this point I piped up, “Before I drove here this morning I reviewed the airport map, the sectional chart and checked the weather. Winds are out of the south at 4 knots. I presume we’ll be using runway 28 today. Can you tell me how the Class C airspace around the pax airport will affect our flight?” I think he might have been just a little relieved to discover that although I’m rather silly, I’m actually not completely clueless. He confirmed that we would, in fact, be using 28 and that we would stay in the proper altitudes to work around the Class C airspace.
I think everything got real for me when he fired up the prop, we listened to ATIS and taxied out to the runway. There was another plane on approach but it was several miles out. Greg announced our intentions to back-taxi to the end of the runway, turn around and take off. As we pulled onto the runway I confirmed that we were, in fact, on 28. I also looked to make sure the runway was clear of traffic.
It was at this point Greg said, “OK, we’re ready for take off. Are you ready to fly the plane?” Um… what? Wait – remember that whole “I’m not flying this plane” thing? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding! I was just about to remind him of this but the next thing I knew we were accelerating down the runway and then we lifted up and I saw the ground gracefully fall away beneath us and at that point I pretty much forgot everything else. Oh. My. God. We’re FLYING!!!
It’s really difficult to find the right words to describe flying in a small plane for the first time. It was incredibly amazing, incredibly awe-inspiring, incredibly beautiful. And, to be honest, just the teensiest bit nerve-wracking – at least at first. It was not an especially windy day, but there was a little turbulence as we flew out over the nearby reservoirs. Greg explained the flow of air around the surface of the earth, how it rises and falls around the terrain, like water in a stream. He then climbed the plane to 4,000 feet and I immediately noticed how much calmer it was.
If my instructor had any flaws it would have to be that he was really good at ignoring my protests. No matter how many times I told him I was NOT going to fly his plane, he somehow got me to make some gentle turns as well as climb and descend. We flew east and then turned south to fly over my neighborhood. I was surprised to find it didn’t take too long for me to recognize where we were. We circled around and I was clearly able to see my house, my yard, the neighbors’ houses… Hey! I didn’t realize those guys had such a big swimming pool!
Visibility was amazing. I looked out and could see not only the pax airport, where I spend so much of my time, but also the cargo airport and the GA airport – and at least one other airport as well. The sight of all those airports was actually rather comforting. It was nice to know there were so many places to land if we needed them.
After checking out my house we turned north and west, heading back to the airport. Greg briefly discussed the airport traffic pattern, but he knew that I already understood how it worked so he turned his attention to completing the pre-landing check list. It was at this point that he asked if I was ready to do the landing. This was the first thing that flashed through my mind:
Um… he’s kidding, right? Just to be safe, I put my foot down (not literally since both feet were resting lightly on the rudder pedals) and said “I am absolutely NOT landing this plane!!!!” It was pretty clear that Greg was just having a little fun with me because this time he accepted my protests and handled the landing – which was, of course, very nicely executed.
We taxied to the ramp, parked the plane and we both climbed out. My first thought upon putting my feet on the ground was… wait a minute… did I just fly an airplane??? Oh holy cow I DID!!!! I just flew a freaking airplane!!!! I looked around thinking for sure the FAA or the NTSB would he there to haul me away, but nope.
For those of you wondering about motion sickness (which was my biggest concern going into all this), I felt fine while we were flying. After we landed, however, some queasiness set in. Fortunately it passed after ten or fifteen minutes.
Still trying to wrap my mind around everything that happened, I gave Greg a very sincere thank you. Not only was he good teacher with the patience of a saint, but he managed to get me to fly his plane despite my adamant assertions that it wasn’t going to happen.
His last act was to hand me a log book which he had filled out detailing my very first lesson. He reminded me to take the log book with me any time I fly with an instructor so I can keep track of the hours. I laughed because of course I have no intention of becoming a pilot.
But then again…