Flight Time is Fright Time

I’ve heard pilots wax poetic about flight and apparently it was better than everything. My previous flying experiences had been a mixed bag. I was a backseater in a F-15 as a cadet for dog-fighting instructors during a hot Florida day. Mostly, I remember sleeping for hours after the flight and being glad that my career was under the ground. 7 years later there was another fighter ride on a moonless night over Vegas that once again made me glad my feet were planted on the ground. And yet, a flight in a small civilian plane over San Antonio, made me think about slipping the surely bond of earth once more.

Sitting in a small plane being batted around by gale force winds made me reconsider that decision. Immediately.

The lesson started innocently enough. The Sunday afternoon was cloudy but not menacing. I walked around the tiny worn out plane inspecting everything carefully according to the checklist. The wings and tail were attached. The engine had enough oil. The propeller was present. After a seemingly insurmountable amount of checks, I climbed in the plane and started the engine.

Feet on the rudder pedals and arms crossed for taxi, ordered the instructor. How do you stay on the centerline? The plane skidding across the runway. Is it hot in here? After what seemed like hours, I made it  to the proper runway without hitting anything.

Now it was time to take off. I pushed the throttle in and the plane lunged forward. Moving too quickly down the runway, it was time to rotate. I pulled back on the yoke steadily but too slowly. The plane leaped off the runway and immediately moved to the left. That darn p factor. Right rudder. Right rudder. Right rudder. The instructor said it 3 times before I added the proper amount of rudder. I made a right turn with too much bank and proceeded to scare the shit out of myself.

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The wind had picked up and the plane wouldn’t stay where I wanted it. Flight attendants no longer say the word turbulence because apparently people are too dumb to know what that is so they say rough air. I wondered if the FAA dictated that switch. Just like the FAA dictated that passengers are shown how to operate seat belts because no one has been in a car since 1968. Mind back on the task at hand.

How long have I been in this plane? I was sweating profusely and did not feel well. The instructor demonstrated maneuvers, I was expected to copy. I tried but the thermals were not cooperating. The plane moved up and down but not where I wanted it to be. This was not going well. Thank God we were headed back to the base. I entered the pattern for landing. Anxiety was building as the ground approached way too fast. Before I could say anything we were on the ground and heading back to the hanger.

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The flight was horrific and I had to do this again? I lived to tell the tale but soon enough I would have to face my fears again. What the hell did I get myself into?

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3 responses to “Flight Time is Fright Time

  1. Great entry, Chris! I loved the part about turbulence vs. rough air. I had the same revelation last weekend when Bridget and I flew commercially and something about the flight attendant’s mantra sounded off. I came to the conclusion that 3 syllable words just don’t cut it. I have also found myself wishing I could validate those briefings or show my card or something just to not have to listen to it again.

    Hope you and Nicole enjoy your adventure.

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