Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about flying in Alaska. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.
Sea cliffs of Molokai, Hawaii.
Extreme tradewinds, extreme cliffs (the highest seacliffs in the world), and extreme isolation. We travelled from Oregon, my CFI from Argentina. Jean again tests the training waters, this time in the middle of the ocean in Hawaii.
John, the owner of Maui Aviators, says his endorsement notation for a student pilot for solo flights was questioned when he added the following conditions, “able to handle winds to 25 knots gusting to 30 and a 40 degrees off the nose crosswind.”
People in the midst of training from Kahului Airport must contend with the winds every takeoff and landing. The winds reminded me of the one that blew my preflight sheet off the cowling of the airplane in Salem, Oregon, and elicited the comment from a flight instructor that student pilots would not be allowed to function solo in those winds. “Anything over 6 or 7 knots could be a challenge,” he said.
Here in Maui that is all there is.
Of course my CFI Lucas knew how to handle such winds, and I was surprised how easy he made this flight. For the first time a CFI was honest and just put in my log, “scenic flight,” oops, I misread, it says, “basic flight maneuvers.” I have had “mountain flying, bird avoidance, scanning,” and, “climbs [duh],taxi, trim, turns.” The more experienced CFIs have led me through “stalls, steep turns, t.o. and landing.” One of my favorite simple ones: ”Intro to seaplane flying.” Another CFI, recognizing my infrequent lessons, wrote, “Discovery Flight.” Six weeks from my last training flight, I was OK with that.
Though only 29 and in his fourth year as a CFI, Lucas in Maui was wise in the ways of this area and did all he could to increase our air time, doing much of the runup himself as I was in need of review and, of course, most Cessnas are slightly different by year. Fuel injection and no carb heat in this one. And, for the first time, I helped the CFI fuel the airplane. He clearly stated each item on the checklist as he performed it or asked me to do so. I felt refreshed by his manner and the winds.
As usual, I felt the surge of energy as I pushed the throttle in and rotated for takeoff.
We crossed the channel, then we flew near the cliffs of Molokai. Lucas wisely took over the plane as I gawked.
“Wow” and “I had no idea,” I exclaimed over and over as we flew. My photos cannot begin to convey the vastness, the isolation, or the height of these falls. At one point when we flew along, I noted that the cliff tops were higher than the airplane and the altimeter read 2,000 feet. Yep. Highest drop, highest seacliffs in the world. Except some of the falls fell into pools nestled in the rocks before continuing the dizzying descent. Verdant green of many hues, inaccessible except by boat or air. And Lucas calmly communicated with the rare flights near us.
As we flew along the cliffs of Molokai and I took over the airplane again, Lucas asked if I wanted to do a touch and go on a flat spot of the island. “Sure,” I said. This isolated site is reached by mule, boat, or airplane. For many years lepers were dropped near shore to swim to their isolated treatment at this former leper colony.
The excitement of the touch and go kept me from sightseeing here. With help I land and take off and soar again near the cliffs. We edge just a bit closer when I ask Lucas to take the controls while I take photos.
The extreme isolation of the leper colony and its small, short runway reminded me of my last lesson in the Bay Area in California (flight school unnamed). There I reached an extreme I wish not to repeat. The headsets did not work properly. Although I could hear the CFI, he could only hear me if I talked loudly in the cockpit. With such a glitch I was not comfortable landing the airplane, even with detailed instruction and his handling of the radio communication.
Yet I have landed enough so I have a feel for the approach and altitude for a comfortable, non-emergency landing. We had on board my husband and a former college instructor who had been a pilot. Instead of turning in the pattern and lining up the runway, the CFI overshot the end of the runway way too high and, after the necessary correction turn, too little of the runway left in my humble and inexperienced opinion. At this point I heard my former college professor/former pilot calmly and assertively say from the backseat, “We need to go around.”
We did not. The CFI steeply banked the airplane and descended very quickly. With a bit of dryness in my throat I watched as the CFI, knowing the weight in the airplane and the long length in the runway, brought this bird down safely with a bit of runway to spare. One lesson about safe parameters learned, but not one I plan to practice on purpose (or is this a standard lesson? And what about not scaring the student?).
In Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, with help, I landed in the crosswind in between large commercial jets, the runway nicely stretched out in front of us before we taxied to Maui Aviators.
Extreme flight training at its worst and best. Adrenaline high reached on both.—Jean Moule
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