In May of last year, when I was on the last leg of my motorcycle trip to Canada and back, I stopped in a Dairy Queen outside of Amarillo for lunch. There, I overheard a family talking about flying somewhere in a small plane that day. I gathered that one of the guys, who looked about my age, was the pilot.
Having just ridden something like 3500 miles in seven days, the notion of getting a pilot's license somehow seemed like the next logical step at the time. I hadn't found the adventure I was looking for, so I obviously needed to do something bigger.
I looked into getting a pilot's license when I got home but found out that it's very expensive to do so. I had no particular interest in becoming a professional pilot, so that idea quickly faded. However, I noticed that most flight schools offer a discovery flight where you get to fly around for half an hour and see how you like it. Bingo.
Mesquite Aviation is about an hour away from my house, but their discovery flight was the cheapest by far. After bad weather delayed my flight by a couple weeks, I finally got to go out last Sunday. It was perfect weather aside from it being a little windy. I was surprised that they didn't make me sign a waiver saying no one could sue them if I died in a crash, especially in light of recent news. But they didn't, and after about two minutes in a classroom, we went out to the runway.
After a pre-flight inspection, we climbed into the cramped little cockpit. I was curious which side I was supposed to sit on. I sat on the driver's side. (Obviously, there were two sets of controls.) Did you know you start airplanes by turning a key just like a car? Well, this plane anyway. And did you know that when you're on the ground, you steer with left and right brake pedals? I wasn't very smooth with those; taxiing in a straight line proved to be pretty tough.
He spoke with the tower over the headset, using what sounded like a lot of nonsense letters and numbers. Whatever they were saying, the gist was that we had permission to take off. He told me to give it gas, which on this plane meant pushing in a rod like a pinball plunger. Then I pulled back on the controls and away we went. It was windy near the ground, so it was a little unsettling to be buffeted around when you're supposedly in control. I've inherited a compulsion to have to be good at something the first time I try it. This can make it hard to enjoy a learning experience. I mean, of course I wasn't going to be good at flying fifteen seconds into my first flight, but still.
Once we leveled off (four fingers between the dash and the horizon), I made a few turns, felt the wind pushing us sideways, and then we turned around and came back. He said we were going around 70-90 miles per hour, but of course it feels a lot slower when the ground is barely moving beneath you. As one might expect, the moving in three dimensions part is what I found to be the strangest. I was glad to relinquish the controls for the landing, which he did quite smoothly. Smoother, in fact, than many commercial flights I've been on, though I'm sure that's comparing apples and oranges.
30 minutes came and went quickly. I'm glad of the experience, though any fantasy of my landing a plane in an emergency situation someday will remain unrealized. I think I'd have to take the full class or be Indiana Jones to do that.