Flying is Freedom! My first experience was what happens when luck and fate collide!
I was just 17 when I graduated High School and I worked at a fast-food restaurant and a hardware store. In those days, we didn’t have the Internet or cell-phones. I had saved enough money to buy a car – a 1979 Mustang Pace Car! (As it turns out, not a great first car for a rambunctious teenage boy, but that’s another story.)
I wanted to be a pilot, but had no idea how. I was talking with a Navy recruiter and he found out there was a plane flying into a local airport and had arranged for them to give a couple of us prospective recruits, a ride. How cool was that!
Yeah, I was terrified! I mean, I wanted to fly, but I had never actually been on an airplane before. I had been to Airshows and watched with wonder as the planes twisted, twirled, rolled and looped in an amazing display of aerobatics. I was mezmorized! And the Military jets would roar by, conveying so much power you could feel it in your chest. Wow! And I had seen the airliners and corporate jets taking off, always making me wonder where they were off too, giving me daydreams they were off to some beautiful, exotic location. What was it like?
We arrived at the small-town local airport and there it sat. A low-wing, radial engine, WWII era aircraft painted in Navy Blue. The pilot, wearing a flight suit, met us and gave us a safety briefing and I strapped on a parachute. I was anxious, excited, in awe of this amazing machine sitting before me and…still terrified! What if I get air-sick? Then I wondered, what if we crash!? What if we had to bail out!? I was terrified of heights! I hadn’t heard of a bucket list yet, but if I had, this would have only been one of the items on a long list of dreams I had not had a chance to pursue yet!
I climbed in and the pilot strapped me in with a 5-point harness AND a seat belt! Whatever happened, it was certain that I wasn’t going to fall out! I donned the headset, which had a microphone that wrapped around in front of my mouth and a long cord plugged into the panel so the pilot and I could communicate. Then the pilot got in and did the same ritual.
With the canopy still open, the pilot turned on switches and things started buzzing, humming and beeping. I heard the pilot in the headset, “can you hear me?” “Yes” I said. My palms were sweaty and like being on my first date ever, I was afraid to touch anything! The control stick between my legs moved around in a circular motion and the pilot yelled, “clear!”
I heard the starter engage, much like that of an old pickup with a worn battery that was hard to start. The propeller blade slowly started to turn and gradually increased in movement until it was vertical and the hurrumphed past, then nearly stopped. The next blade did the same. Not sure there was enough life left in this WWII radial engine, I didn’t think it was possible, but I got more nervous! Then it started to sputter and pop! The blades started to rotate in a pulsing arch and pulsing became a more prevalent, blub, blub-blub, blub-blub-blub, and copious amounts of smoke started billowing out of the exhaust. Then the rest of the cylinders seemed to join in all at once and the engine roared to life!
It restored my confidence, as the loud, roaring purr of the engine conveyed all of the life and power of a new engine, the smoke cleared and the airplane shook in place like a linebacker waiting for the snap! It wanted to fly!
We taxied to the runway and the pilot made a radio call and closed the canopy. Then he moved the throttle forward and it forced me back into the seat with an astonishing amount of thrust. There was no doubt about the power and capabilities of this amazing machine as we lifted off the runway! I was flying!
I was surprisingly not afraid anymore. As we climbed to gain altitude, the forces equalized and the view was amazing! I could see my whole hometown, the cars looked like toys on the roads and the fields were green and full of life. Then we banked into a slight turn and I became aware of all three plains of motion. It was exhilarating!
After enjoying the views and doing some turns and banks, he let me take the controls! With my hand on the control stick and the other resting on the throttle, I felt powerful! The slightest motions of the controls could be felt in the movement of the aircraft. With the curiosity of a toddler, I wondered, ‘what do all these switches and gauges do?’ There must have been a hundred buttons and indicators. How do pilots learn to use them?
Then the pilot asked me if I wanted to fly inverted. Yes! How cool to experience all the airplane can do. As we rolled upside down, I felt the blood rushing to my head as I hung from the harness. What a way to experience gravity, and what a view! After a short time we rolled back over and he asked how I was doing? “Great!” I said. So we rolled the aircraft 360 degrees. We were pretty high at this point and he dove towards the ground. As the rpm’s increased and the sound of the wind rushing past the aircraft screamed, we pulled up into a loop! We slowed near the top while upside down and then the nose came over and we were upside down, diving at the ground again! We continued through to straight and level flight and headed back.
The landing was smooth and as we taxied back my head was still in the clouds, replaying the entire experience. I thanked the pilot and watched as my friends took their turn for a ride. It all seemed so surreal. And then, after the last ride, the plane departed and we went home to share the experience with friends and family.
I’ll never forget my first ride in that airplane or the regrets that I was so excited I didn’t ask the million questions I wanted to ask. Thus began my quest to answer those questions and learn how to fly! Subscribe and learn more as I document what I’ve learned from my journey in more blogs, in my upcoming book and in some online videos from 20 years of experience at SkyWebAviation.com Thank you for reading!
Learn, laugh, and make your dreams soar!