The sensation of flying a plane in one word: terrixhilarating

I mentioned some time back that my wife had gotten me an honest-to-goodness flying lesson. This weekend I took the flight school up on that offer, and being that it’s probably one of the most awesome things done in my life — in the truest sense of the word, in that it inspired awe — I thought I should pen a few words about it.

I arrived at the school and sat down with my flight instructor. The gift certificate claimed about 40 minutes of flying, which I naturally assumed meant 40 minutes in the air with the experienced pilot handling most of it and handing over the controls for about five minutes. So during the ground lesson, my instructor casually mentioned that he’ll handle the take-off and landing, and everything in-between is all me.

!

This seems like a profoundly bad idea. The impression I’ve gotten from being a passenger in planes is that they are essentially defying the laws of gravity and it takes precise expertise and training to keep them from giving up and suddenly obeying those laws to terrible effect. But, he’s the flight instructor, and he’s going to be putting his life on the line too. Surely he must know what he’s doing, especially if he performs this insane, stupid idea several times per week, right?

So we go through a few general rules, we go out to perform the pre-flight check together, he shows me around the gauges and controls. We actually pull the plane out of the hanger personally by hand. It’s just a light 2-seater plane, and from a picture you probably wouldn’t even think it could fit both of us. This did not help my sense of calm.

He taxied the plane away from the hangers, and then had me taxi it the rest of the way to the runway to get a feel for it. That part is actually not too difficult, but a little counter-intuitive. Essentially my right hand and both feet were tasked with controlling the brakes of two wheels individually, to control direction. Then we headed for the runway, took off, and before we had even gained full altitude, he told me I was on the stick.

It was terrifying and exhilarating, hence the title. But after I got over the initial tension, which was making my body move the stick harder than necessary, I realized that my impressions of flying were pretty much completely wrong. The plane wants to stay in the air, and it didn’t seem like I could do much to stop that by accident. I could steer here and there, adjust the nose to stay on the horizon line, bank a little too sharply, but the craft generally wants to stay up. The pilot just needs to keep the ride smooth.

Flying is a bit surreal. Even over our little Maryland burg (and bits of Pennsylvania, where we flew over), the view was a beautiful sight. Seeing that view shift with my own motions, knowing that I was controlling this little metal tube about 3,000 feet in the air, is hard to describe. It’s really something that has to be experienced.

We flew over a nearby lake. I handled most of the ascent, kept us steady at a few different altitudes, handled some simple banks and turns, and then headed back. I can say that cutting the throttle is a bit scary, because even though the plane continues to move forward, my body was still accustomed to its current speed. Cutting that down just felt like we’d drop out of the sky.

Coming back I handled the descent and the approach to the runway, until we were just about ready for the landing when the instructor took over. He had claimed before the lesson that I would handle the approach “depending on how well I was doing,” so I’ll take that as a good sign. He said I flew like I had already had a lesson or two. Whether that was genuine feedback or part of a sales pitch for more lessons, I don’t know — but for my own pride I’ll choose to believe I’ve got a knack for flying machines.

Apparently that short time in the air counts toward a license, so I have a logbook with .7 hours. Partway there.

I’ve wanted to fly for years, and my wife made it happen. At risk of sounding cliche, this year has been one of making things happen. Things that are terrixhilarating. Asking “why not?” I was on a panel in front of hundreds of people, because why not? I flew a plane, because why not? Everything new worth experiencing comes with that hollow gut feeling right before the jump. Then you get out there and it’s not as bad as you thought. The plane wants to stay in the air. You just have to make it a smooth ride.

  • “Zombie” has jumped to the top of my list for most anticipated Wii U game.
  • While I lament the lack of manuals to string absurd combos, I’m really looking forward to Tony Hawk HD. Looks like I know what I’m doing come June.
  • I tried out the Kinect Star Wars demo, and promptly turned it off. The lack of a pause option to back out and try a different game type was a huge turn-off.
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