I know what I want to do with my life. It’s official.
Today was my first time in a small aircraft and I loved every minute of it.
I’ve been interested in ultralight and light-sport aircraft for a long time now. Last year when I was reading a book titled “Your Pilot’s License” I read about aviation clubs dedicated to light sport aircraft or gliders and recently I decided to see if there were any around me. The Southeast Virginia Light Aircraft Flyers were not easy to find! But when I did eventually come across them I immediately contacted them and for the past few weeks I’ve been talking to the president of the club, Danny. He invited us out to their meeting today and he assured me that if we hung around until after lunch someone would take me up! I anxiously looked forward to today all week but I tried not to get my hopes up for flying. I certainly was not going to ask anyone to fly me around, after all fuel is pricey, so instead I intended to come out, meet some pilots and go home happy.
The meeting was held on a big farm with a grassy runway and three or four different airplane hangars! The owner of the farm was such a nice guy and he had the sweetest dog (called Pooh Bear). As soon as we arrived Danny met us and immediately started talking about taking us up! On the inside I jumped for joy. We hung around the hanger and talked about his light-sport airplane, which he built himself. He opened the door up for me and told me to get into the “big boy seat” and then he showed me around the controls. After introducing ourselves to everyone it was time for the club meeting so we sat down at a picnic table and listened to club business. I found it all very fascinating and I learned so much just listening to everyone talk. Then it was time to cook lunch.
We helped prepare the table while everyone else prepared the food and the grill. While we waited for the food to cook we stood around talking and Danny asked if we wanted to go up in the Champ and I nodded enthusiastically. The pilot said he could take one person up and then he had to leave for the day so Adam graciously let me go up! I wish I could remember the pilot’s name but I heard so many names today. I feel awful for forgetting it because he took me up on my first official flight and that is something that should be remembered! I swear I will catch it next time.
Anyway I excitedly dashed over and he talked me through the different parts of the plane, he adjusted the headset for me so we could talk with one another over the engine sound and he warned me that it would be incredibly bumpy due to the wind. Then I climbed in the airplane and belted myself in! I loved his airplane so much. I’m pretty sure it is an Aeronca Champion and he said it was built in the 1940s so it has no electrics and no electric starter. One of the other pilots had to come over and turn the propeller to get the engine started! Once running we taxied down the runway and turned around. “You ready” he asked me. “Oh yeah!” I said through the mic on my headset. All the sudden he sped the plane up and we zoomed down the runway until slowly we lifted off the ground and ascended into the sky! It was so great to have the headset because for one, airplanes are loud, and for two it was great to talk to one another. He taught me so many little things about flying and he told me what to expect when I start taking lessons. He explained the proper way to approach a runway and then he explained how he would land the plane without flaps! We flew around for a good few minutes and I smiled the entire time. I gazed out the window and I learned when to expect a sudden drop in altitude thanks to thermal air columns. Every time the lovely little plane dropped I felt my stomach rise up into my chest (much like being on a roller-coaster) and I could not help but laugh at the sensation. At one point the pilot asked if I was doing alright and I said yes, I loved the bumpy ride! Eventually we came back down to earth and he landed the plane most impressively.
I honestly don’t think I could have thanked him enough.
Once back on the ground I realized I was late for lunch! Adam said they tried to radio us to tell us lunch was ready but we didn’t get the message. Apparently the men on the ground were joking with Adam and telling him “I hope you had a good insurance policy on her…” since we weren’t responding to the radio. Of course I’m sure they all knew we were fine. Before the flight they asked if I wanted to kiss Adam goodbye and I said nah, I knew I’d be back! Apparently the men on the ground also asked Adam if I was the screaming type and Adam told them no, he said, “She’s not afraid of anything.” And that makes me smile.
It was really difficult for me to go and sit down with everyone and just enjoy a hot dog. I was kind of pumped. I wanted to fly again. I wanted to keep flying and never stop. My head was in the clouds for sure. Luckily I was hungry enough that my tummy rumblings brought me back to earth. So we all enjoyed some good food and everyone liked the cookies I had made! There was a lot of “hangar-talk” around the table and I loved listening to everyone’s flight stories.
After lunch Danny asked me if I was ready to see what an ultralight felt like. My goodness yes. I felt really bad going up again because there were a couple other people on the ground that wanted to fly too but Danny asked me first and before I realized other people were waiting he had seat-belted me in. Luckily when we got back I learned that the other pilots were flying everyone else. The whole time in the air half my brain was on the other people waiting down below and part of me was eager to get back so they could have a turn too. I was glad I didn’t get in the way of anyone else’s experience.
The ultralight was different from the Champ in a lot of ways, visibility being the biggest of all. The ultralight was also smaller and slower, but if you have ever ridden quickly in small car or on a small motorbike you’ll know that the smaller something is the faster it feels! The sixty-five mile per-hour take off seemed like a hundred! It was thrilling! My ultralight ride lasted a lot longer than the ride in the Champ and Danny was an excellent guy to ride with! He also did his best to demonstrate the skills required for flying and he encouraged me to hang onto the stick so I could get the feel of guiding the plane through the air. The cool part about Light-Sport aircraft is the fact that they can glide for long distances so at around 1100 feet he let off the throttle and allowed the plane to glide. He told me how important it is to always keep an eye-out for an emergency landing spot. Also, because the airplane glides so well it was much less bumpy than the Champ. When the landscape transitioned from fields to forests below us the Champ dropped drastically in altitude but the light-sport barely dropped at all. Of course the light-sport was pushed around from side to side by the wind much more.
When it came time to land Danny warned me that the airplane would dive down before leveling off and apparently it sometimes frightens first-time flyers. I wasn’t frightened at all and to me it seemed the landing was incredibly smooth! Once back on the ground Adam asked, “well did you scare her?” and Danny sighed and said, “I don’t know, I can’t read her.”
Finally it was Adam’s turn to fly! I was so excited for him! Adam isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about flying as I am but I know deep down he thinks it is incredibly cool too and once he landed again I could see he really enjoyed it! While he flew I stayed with the other guys on the ground and we talked about all sorts of things. Mike, another new potential club-member and first time-flyer asked if there was anything else ballsy I do. His question made me laugh so I told them I ride a scooter and a motorcycle but really I’d be happy to try anything. Then we all got to talking about hiking, dishwashers, and aviation careers. Earlier in the day we had a big discussion about jumping out of airplanes and I noticed a fascinating trend. I’d happily go skydiving from an airplane, Danny’s wife has gone and another pilot’s wife wants to go….however all the men agree its nuts and they wont do it. It intrigues me that the ladies will do but the men wont!
When Adam returned to earth we all said goodbye and then we each went our separate ways. Adam and I came home and napped on the couch. Anyone that knows me knows I do not nap…so that ought to tell you how tired we were! It was a wonderfully exhausting day in the sun.
I loved being in the air….I loved it just as much as I thought I would and I have no doubts in my mind anymore. This is what I want to do. Flying is the most incredible experience and thanks to commercial aviation and the airlines it is so often taken for granted. The first time I ever flew on a big jumbo jet I stared out the window the whole time and I wondered why everyone else was ignoring the world below. That particular flight flew through a storm and I found it far more exciting than frightening. I watched the lighting in the clouds and I felt my stomach drop at every patch of turbulence and I realized I was in love. I’ve been secretly worried that small aircraft might not be as magical for me…or perhaps they’d be too uncomfortable but that wasn’t the case at all. I am definitely still in love.
Today I honestly did not expect to fly. I thought my first small airplane experience would be next month at the women can fly event. If you read the blog you know I’ve been blabbing about that for ages now. At the beginning of this year I set myself the goal of flying or taking a discovery flight but I had no idea how I would accomplish it. In fact, deep down, I thought it wouldn’t happen. Discovery flights are expensive and I did not foresee the amazingly supportive community I have found. I’m thrilled that it is only April and I’ve already crossed this off my bucket list for the year! In the past two months I have done two things I thought would take years to accomplish and both things happened when I least expected it. It is inspiring can happen if you put forth a little effort and approach life with a lot of optimism.