I walked into my instructors office and he spent twenty minutes talking about aerodynamics and how that was all related to Geometry and Trigonometry. “It would be a breeze”, he said.
My husband was across the room smiling at me with the same expression as he did the day I gave birth to our daughter when I was violently vomiting during my cesarean. Oddly, it actually was comforting. As much in this moment as it was then.
k and I think I was starting to sweat. Finally, I said the only thing my brain would allow to come out of my mouth, “are you going to go over all of this again because I barely passed Geometry and in a million years, I would never pass Trigonometry.” The instructor laughed, stood up and said, “okay, let’s get out there!”. Immediately, I asked if I could use the restroom first. What I was actually doing was praying in that bathroom. Genuinely asking God to please not let me have diarrhea or vomit in this airplane.
Walking out to the Cessna 172 was basically a blur. My instructor strapped me in, he walked around to his side and did the same and shut the door. I never heard the door shut. I remember him saying, okay, lets run through the pre-flight checklist that he had in his lap. He called them out one at a time and I frantically searched for the buttons as he named them. We got through it all in about 2-3 minutes.
“Now it’s time for you to do the radio call” he said. The what? “The radio call.” On the dash of a Cessna 172 there are dozens of things. Yes, he told me what each and every one of them did several times. The tail number is also right in front of your eyeballs. You can’t miss it. N65841, staring me in the face. Press this button and say, “Jackson tower, this is Cessna N65841 headed south to runway 17 for takeoff.
I asked him again, “what did you say?” He told me again. The entire time I am staring at the chrome plate with the planes tail number, N65841, my mind is blank. I asked him again, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” He told me a third time. I’m still just staring at the planes tail number completely numb. I still didn’t have a clue what he said to me. I was too embarrassed to ask a fourth time so I said, “Madison tower this is Cessna 172….” and he stopped me. I apologized and I said “I don’t know why I cannot get this one sentence out of my mouth!” He let me try again, though. This time I said, “Jackson tower, this is Cessna N65841 to runway 71 for takeoff.” I am positive that there were some good laughs at that and honestly, I am so glad. Sometimes, you have to laugh in these situations. It wasn’t until later that day that my husband informed me that there wasn’t a runway 71. By then, I did not care.
Turns out, you fly with your feet. During that 20 minutes of Trigonometry talk, that would have been some good information to have. Instead, how about the 90 seconds taxing up before takeoff? HA. It took some getting used to, but it actually came fairly naturally. It was about 2 minutes after I taxied up and we would be ready for take off. He went over some final things with me but I kept thinking about all the people talking to him in my headset. While he was multi-tasking Olympic gold medalist style, my head wanted to explode! I couldn’t figure out whose voice to listen to. Before I had even a split second to change my mind, he was ready to go.
I remember him saying, “line up with the white line on the runway, now pull back on the yolk as hard as you can. Harder. A little more. Keep going. Beth, look out your window, we’re off the ground.” I took off in that Cessna 172 and we were off the ground. I was in the air, in the pilot’s seat, flying an airplane.
We were up there about 30 minutes before it was time to land. He taught me how to turn, accelerate, what it felt like to descend and even what an engine failure would feel like. I told him previously that in my quest to overcome my fears, what helped me most was to understand what was happening, why it was happening and what the outcome was. When he mimicked engine failure, I understood what I always heard. Planes do not just fall out of the sky. Now, I can put a feeling with the phrase.
Time to land. When we started the descent, he told me to mimic everything he did. I could feel with my hands and my feet every motion he made, even if my eyes had been closed. I followed along closely, just as he asked. Momentarily, I could see the runway. I lowered the flaps and maintained with his motions. At this point it was pretty simple. The landings have always been my favorite, so I paid close attention, even a little sad it was over.
2 minutes and 26 seconds….and I landed that plane. I had no idea that during that short time, he had let go (of course he could take control at ANY moment) but, he didn’t. When he said, “you did a nice job.” I asked, “that was me? His reply? … “That was you. Yep.”
Afterward, he told me that almost never happens on an observation flight. Things had gone so well, he thought I could do it. I did do it. It was all me the entire time.
When I walked away that day, I was elated. Every emotion I could muster was bursting from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. All of them except the one I went there with. Fear.
That one stayed there. I won this battle I won’t always win. But, I will always try.
Again and again. #firesthatforged