Monday, October 11, 2010

Adventures in Aviation, Part Un

Yesterday marked my 3rd impromptu flying lesson. Here are the things I remember clearly:

Wes and I went into the airport store and bought a logbook. It cost $9.95. The only thing I could fill out in the logbook was my name and address. It made me feel like I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Wes and I do a walk-around of the plane. I wander to one side of the plane, briefly checking the various nuts and bolts, while Wes walks to the other side of the plane. He tells me you have to start your walk-around on one side and continue completely around the plane. I think “Damn, I’m screwing up already”. I follow Wes around the plane. He says something about piano hinges. It sticks in my mind so I take a closer look at what he’s talking about. I look at the hinge and wonder where in a piano you can find this same thing. I realize I am loosing track of what this walk-around is about and try to refocus. We come to the front of the plane and Wes says something about making sure there aren’t any bird’s nests in the engine compartment. Whatever focus I had is now lost because I’m thinking about what type of birds might be nesting in the engine. We complete the walk around. I reassure myself that I’ve got the general gist of the procedure – you need to make sure your airplane isn’t falling apart before you fly it.

My memory lapses at this point. All I know is that the plane is started, I’m sitting in the left seat thinking about taxiing, and there is an annoying air bubble in my right ear clouding out some of my hearing. Taxi goes fine. I’m proud that I’m not swinging the airplane back and forth over the taxi-way like a drunk driver. Wes completes the run up and gets us airborne. We are barely 300 feet off the runway before it’s my turn to fly. I have a mild panic attack because I grab the stick with my left hand, which is the proper way to do it, but it feels strange. I think “I can’t fly like this! I’ll never be able to fly at all!” and probably something like “We are going to die!” I’m trying to get comfortable with my left hand, plus figure out what’s going on with my air speed and climb rate, and my stress level is shooting through the roof (or maybe I should say, shooting through the atmosphere - hehe).

My intense focus alleviates some of the stress and since I haven’t killed us yet, I figure I can do this. But then the heat kicks in. It feels like we’re flying in an oven. Seriously, it was hottttt. Oddly, my feet are super hot. Wes says we should fly over the ocean and at a lower altitude so we can cool down a bit. My mind automatically comes up with the following equations: Ocean = sharks = death; low altitude + ocean also = sharks + death. I tell myself to stay positive.

We fly along the coast. It’s a lovely clear day, but the heat won’t let up. Wes tells me to pull a 180 and head back. I turn around without hesitation. My stomach sinks and I see we are losing airspeed. I pitch the plane down (at least that’s what I think I did). We make the turn without incident. Wes explains something about how that’s normal and what I did to compensate was correct. He tells me I’m doing a great job. I believe him… sorta.

As we head back to the airport, there is some radio communication I don’t understand and then Wes tells me to pull a 360 so he can figure out what we’re going to do. A 180 I’m cool with, but a spontaneous 360? No way. Especially since it sounds like Wes is focused on other things.
Me: Your plane.
Wes: No, it’s ok. Just turn around right here.
Me: Your plane.
Wes: Just keep altitude and turn...
Me, interrupting: Wes, it’s your plane! You do the 360!
Wes: Ok, ok, I got it. My plane.
Me: Your plane.

Wes brings us back to the airport and tries to give me one last lesson before we land. I’ve heard it before; something about rudder and wind and not crashing into the runway. The details elude me. Wes lands perfectly. Like butttaah. I feel hot, and bothered, but I’m alive!

I decide the next time we go flying we have to make sure it’s cooler than 100 degrees.

(thanks to Chris Muhl for the photo, and my John Doe for the flying lesson)

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