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Flyin' Solo

07/31/2008 05:00PM ● Published by Super Admin

W hile Tom is on hiatus this month, I volunteered to share my recent first-time-pilot experience. I was contacted by letsgoflying.org (sponsored by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) to do a story on their services. I don’t think I’ll be interviewing at Southwest anytime soon, but the opportunity gave me a nerve-racking, yet breath-taking Top Gun experience, not to mention an impressive conversation starter.

After making sure to have my proper caffeine intake (alertness is key when flying... so I’ve heard), I met my instructor, along with my photographer (yes you’d better believe that I needed documentation of this event) at the Sacramento Executive Airport. Thankfully, it was a clear day, and my instructor, Ed, could not have been more reassuring… until we sat down at a small table to go over some pre-flight “basics.” Looking back, I’m not sure that “basic” was the appropriate word to describe the numerous technical terms that were thrown my way. I really had not been nervous, up until I got the “basics.” When Ed started explaining what each of the 27 gauges (don’t quote me on that figure) in the cabin were used for, I took a big gulp and quickly tried to remember if I brought along my anti-anxiety medication. But there was no time to think, I just listened as if it were life or death. After seeing the color draining from my face, Ed let me know that he would be sitting next to me and able to take control of the plane at any moment. Phew. He also informed us that if you put all of his flights together, he has been in the air for over a year and a half. Another sigh of relief.

After the “basics” flew right out of my left ear, we headed to the field to pick our plane and perform all of the pre-flight inspections. With everything in check, we boarded the tiny, I mean tiny plane (is there such a thing as a SmartPlane?).

Initially my biggest challenge was mastering the headset radio (not a good sign). Once I figured out the winning technique of pushing my lips up against the microphone to actually be heard, I moved on to firing the engine. So exhilarating that I temporarily forgot that I had much more to master. Next came my second biggest challenge: taxiing in a straight line while moving forward (easier said than done). When you taxi you actually steer with your feet, left peddle turns you to the left and so on, but you must also hold the wings somewhat level using the steering wheel (or the yoke I think it’s called). The procedure is very unnatural, like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. Once I maintained a straight path for... oh, a few yards, Ed smiled and said I was a natural.

Now it was time for take off. I was as ready as I ever would be, and frankly there was no turning back without a great deal of embarrassment (although I considered it). Taking off was as easy as pushing a button. Ed instructed me to slowly push in the throttle until we reached a certain number on one of those gauges that I wasn’t paying attention to in the beginning, and then I simply pulled out on the yoke to lift the nose of the plane off of the ground. And, voila! I was flying! I only knew that because Ed told me that I was.

Flying over downtown Sacramento Ed coached me through the regular drills such as steering the plane in different directions and changing levels of altitude. As we ended our sightseeing, and I unclenched my teeth, Ed asked if I’d like to try landing myself. But just then, a gust of wind turned us a little sideways, and I replied that I’d let him handle the touch down. I didn’t want to push my luck; I would save the crash-landing for next time!

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