Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fly! Be Free!

The view from above
I pulled back on the wheel amid the roar of engine noise and directed us up onto a wave of air -- that is, into a little bit of empty space. That hang moment, when I realized nothing solid connected me to the ground: pure delight. 

In a Talking Heads song, one line always stuck with me: "I can swim, but I should fly." Now I know why.

My friend Christine and I, under the guidance of our instructor Bob Gardner, went up in a Cessna 172 today, on a discovery flight through Navy Annapolis Flight School out of Lee Airport in Edgewater, MD. Bob has been flying for over 30 years, since his brother got him hooked taking him up into the skies when he was a teenager. As he said, "I figured if he could do it, I could too," and so he's been flying for decades.  He teaches through NAFC -- one of his former students was landing as we were taxing toward the runway -- and also runs charter flights. 

To start, Bob and I were in the front at the controls and Christine (and her camera) in the back. After some seat adjustment so I could see over the dashboard, and checklist run-throughs to check the fuel, lights, radio, and so on, we were rolling in short order. 

For those that remember my driving lessons, where each member of my family took me out precisely once, returning back pale, shaky and grayer of hair, my spacial relations in new machinery remains initially, umm, challenged. In the Cessna, I slowly taxied (weaved) down the runway using the foot pedals that steer left to right. Having (eventually) mastered driving a car so thoroughly, having a steering wheel in front of me that I, on the ground, ignored felt a wee bit unnatural.  Having breaks at both feet, so that you can really dig both heels in, had its appeal though.

Always choose the window seat
I loved take off. I really did feel the plane responding to my maneuvers there (although Bob, of course, had the other wheel, ready if I should suddenly flake out on a rather important part of the lesson). The amping of the engine, brake release, and leaping speed culminated in the gentle glide from ground to air. The landscape widened out in front of us as our altitude increased, providing a three-dimensional scope of land and water not possible during landlocked living.  Unlike a commercial jet, the sense of flight and air is much more immediate in a propeller plane, the difference between, say, driving a motorcycle (sans wind) versus riding in a bus. 

We cruised up to about 3,000 feet, flying into a glorious sunny day, mostly calm, the hum of the motor and tower chatter filling our ears. My feet stayed off the pedals in the air (Bob took charge of that), but I got to handle the steering wheel and so kept us lined up with the horizon. As when sailing a boat, planes respond with a small lag time, the feel of which I never quite got synced up with, but I latched onto the general idea. Partly, I was distracted just gawking at the view.

Go ahead, look down...when not flying the plane
We flew over the Bay to Easton Airport, landing there after checking with the tower. I learned that the four landing lights appear different colors based off of our altitude. Bob adjusted the throttle (less thrust, thereby slowing us down; obviously, those pedal brakes only work on the ground when there is something solid for them to grip against), eased us down to the a smooth landing. A quick chat with the tower clarified on what we were doing and where we were doing it (swapping seats off a corner of runway 4). Christine took my spot and I dug out my camera in the backseat.

Christine at the controls
As I did, Christine participated in take off and steering once airborne, and demonstrated more efficient bonding with the dynamics of the machinery. We hit a little turbulence on the way back to Lee, and heard automated warning through our headsets about cross winds as we were landing. 

Back on the ground, we taxied back to our plane parking spot, engine off and officially land-bound again.

Our brief flight, an intro only, left me exuberant, and my stomach mildly unsettled (turbulence lurches? glee? hard to say).  

Definitely, if I win the lottery, you'll see me taking to the friendly skies. And if my power ball number doesn't pop up, I may consider other scenarios to see how I could finance my private pilot's license. 

With the Cessna
As the website points out, in the US, only about 800 airports serve commercial airlines, but 5300 airports are open to general aviation. That's a lot of happy take-offs to scenic views while hopscotching across the country.


  1. Another Wonderful post, C! You are so brave and amazing.

    Hope you do win the lottery so you can fly us across country while we sing Indigo Girls songs & visit only the very best cheese doors :-)

  2. Awww,thanks sweetie! I'm sure the guys in the air traffic control would love to hear a duet of "Closer to Fine"!