|Me flying past the Golden Gate Bridge!
Did I really just say that?
I’d prepared for a romantic date. A quick flight to Half Moon Bay. Time to practice my aerial photography. Fresh fish. Post-graduation relaxation. I should have known better when Mr. T instructed me how to pre-flight the airplane in detail.
After reviewing the plane from front to back, inside and out, we prepared to depart and I found myself utterly confused as to why T was getting in on my side. He ignored my protests and soon I was in the left seat. You know, where the pilot sits.
That’s when I started freaking out.
I’ve been planning to learn how to fly, this summer in fact. But I’m an academic and a global learner to boot. I like to have background before jumping into a project. Instead, I got my first informal flying lesson.
|Not my usual view.
Now, I wish I could say I was a natural. After all, I’ve flown a couple hundred hours as a passenger in various light aircraft. But no, at first, I was a nervous, sometimes panicked, squealing, swearing, nearly crying wreck who may or may not have hyperventilated right before talking to air traffic control for the first time. (Yes, T made me talk to the tower. At least initially.)
What struck me most was how different/weird/wrong flying in the left seat felt and appeared. After I taxied – like a drunk toddler apparently – to the run-up area, T instructed me how to prepare the plane for take-off.
I checked that the controls were free of obstructions by pulling the yoke to my chest, turning it side-to-side, pushing it back and repeating. I peered at the instruments, though they mostly meant nothing to me. I made sure both gas tanks were on, glanced to make sure the altimeter was correct, locked window latches and did a “run up” which means checking the engine by running it at high power for a minute to make sure everything is copacetic. When we were set, T called to the tower. Then:
Skylane 5-8-8-7 Bravo, cleared for take-off.
|I can’t say I was very happy with my husband at this point in our
adventure. Smiles aside, I was still a bundle of nerves!
T steered us to the runway. As we rolled forward, he instructed me to steadily push in the throttle which made the engine rev to life and after a few moments, the wheels left the ground. I’m pretty sure I squealed the entire time and got myself a little overemotional during our right turn-out.
You see, being in the left seat made me feel in charge but without any of the skills or know-how to do the job correctly. All of a sudden, a plane that I’ve spent 75 hours in as a passenger felt and sounded wrong. I felt like a huge poseur who was going to crash the plane at any moment.
As I alternated between screeching and swearing, T admonished me: “You are not responsible.” Informal lesson numero uno did not put me in charge in the slightest. I was pushing buttons and holding the yoke, but T was in control. Once I realized he wasn’t going to let me do anything egregiously wrong and that I wasn’t going to make us fall out of the sky, I began to relax. Sort of.
|Golden Gate Bridge!
My tasks for our flight from Sacramento Executive to Half Moon Bay involved flying a heading (direction) and maintaining a specific altitude. I got to play with turning the plane, pitching down to descend, pulling up to climb, “trimming” once I found a good equilibrium. (More on this vocab later!)
I maneuvered us just to the right of the bridge on the Sausalito side, heading out over the water. We stayed a mile from the coast and at about a thousand feet thanks to a layer of clouds above.
Since the cops’ course blocked the entrance to harbor area and they wouldn’t let us walk around, we hitched a ride with a friendly officer. Almost before I could fasten the catch on my seat belt, we were hurtling through the course at freeway speeds, and I squealed with glee at the impromptu roller coaster ride.
After bidding our driver goodbye and watching him roar off in a cloud of tire smoke, we walked to a favorite bar and grill on the harbor. While awaiting our calamari and Arnold Palmers, we debriefed the flight and I peppered T with questions about procedures like flying “the pattern” for landing and the differences between fixed pitch and constant speed props. In turn, T explained vectors, stalls and a hundred other things though I admit, my ability to absorb new information petered out halfway through our meal.
Following lunch, we headed out, me taking an extended time taxiing (so what if I missed the turn off?) and announcing to “Half Moon Bay traffic” that we were “departing runway tree-zero” with a right turnout. (When speaking over the radio, some words are pronounced differently to reduce confusion, i.e., three = tree. More on that later.) The good news? Unlike our departure from Sacramento Executive, I found that take-off exhilarating instead of terrifying, and I pretty much did it all myself.
After a gas stop at the windblown Rio Vista airport, we landed at Sacramento Executive and spent the drive home again debriefing the whole flight experience. Despite feeling nervous and overwhelmed, I can’t wait to get back out and fly again. Goal for next time? No inappropriate swearing or squealing. (Hey, one can hope.)
P.S. More pictures, of course:
|San Francisco in the distance, Alcatraz in the middle.
|A lucky sunny day in the city.
|It’s not uncommon to see whales off the coast here.
|The sunshine disappeared as we turned the corner to arrive in Half Moon Bay.
|Quiet Thursday afternoon in Half Moon Bay harbor.
|Decent pub fare at the Half Moon Bay Brewery.
|Happily, T said I did much better at holding headings and altitude on the return flight.
|Dense living in the San Francisco area!
|I’m always happy to be near the ocean.
|Fueling at Rio Vista.