This story was too good not to share. It’s a student’s impression of the first lesson. She’s graciously agreed to share it with us, if for nothing else than to remember the feelings we had when first experiencing flight. – Ed
I took my first flying lesson, ever. It took me ten years to get up enough nerve to call a flight instructor. I scheduled Tuesday morning at Edmond Guthrie Regional Airport but the clouds were too low so we cancelled. Same for Wednesday. I was relieved. Then we rescheduled for the next available opening–Thursday at 3 p.m. Around noon I came up with excuses to cancel. I felt nauseous. It was too hot. And of course, it was my mother’s birthday. I called my husband, Bill, and told him I might wait until next week. I hoped he’d say, “You’re right. It’s too hot.” But he said, “It’s your choice. Whatever you want to do.” Lot of help he was.
A pitch-hitter flight training course is for those of us who don’t want to be a pilot unless we have to. Since I fly with Bill several times a month and hopefully we’ll fly many more years, it seems like a wise investment. Just in case something ever happens to him, I want to be able to land the airplane.
So here I go. I expect hours on the ground learning the technique. I’ve already read through and watched the first few chapters of The Complete Private Pilot book at home. I try to tell Glenn Crabtree, the instructor, that I’m lost when it comes to pitch and yaw and angle of attack. I have no idea how that plane gets off the ground. Aerodynamics is a foreign language.
Glenn spends a few minutes drawing pictures on the chalk board. I nod my head. Then he says, “Are you ready to try it?” Try what? Fly?
I meekly follow him to the airplane. A small, four-seat Grumman. We go through the meticulous checklist. It’s not like you can pull over and check the oil in the air. I choose to sit in the co-pilot seat instead of the pilot seat. I can’t imagine why he even gives me a choice.
I expect to relax and watch Glenn fly while he explains everything. Wrong again. He shows me how to taxi to the runway and we weave back and forth down the yellow line. I decline to use the radio. I’m not ready to go public yet. Then he tells me to keep my hands on the steering wheel while he takes off. Oops, it’s called a control wheel or something, although I’m not sure why. I’m definitely not in control here.
We aren’t even 1,000 feet off the ground before Glenn says, “Now you take over.” I almost panic, but I can be brave when necessary. Doesn’t seem too hard. I follow directions and turn it a little bit to the right. Of course, he controls the throttle, the instruments, the flaps, the rudders, and whatever else it is a pilot controls.
After we bank to the right, (see I’m getting the lingo) he shows me how to increase altitude, or in my terms, go up. About that time, he tells me to turn right and he takes both hands off the control wheel. Now why would any sane instructor do that with me in the cockpit? My heart beats unusually fast and I speak into the headset, “I can’t do it.” He looks at me and calmly says, “Is something wrong? Are you sick? Do you want to go back?”
I take a deep breath and say, “No. I’m just nervous.” I don’t want to tell him I just panicked, although he probably suspects. Then he tells me go in a 360 degree circle to the right. At my wide angle, we could be in Kansas City before we get turned around. As soon as we make it back to facing east, he says to go around left. Probably the widesta circles he’s ever made.
Next he explains how the rudder helps, and by golly, he’s right. It does make a difference, especially when I get the left and right rudder backwards and we skid through the turn.
By now, we’ve been in the air an hour. He says to start descending. He reduces the throttle and the nose dives downward. I pull up. An automatic reaction. We descend to 3,000 feet but must be at 1,900 feet for final approach. We miss the runway and have to circle around to get lower.
All right, I need more lessons, but we made it safely to the ground. That’s important, isn’t it? Glenn originally said we’d work on stalls next, but now he says we’ll practice circles again.
One thing I did learn. This is more fun than I ever thought it would be. Just don’t tell my husband. He might take his hands off the control wheel sometime. And that would not be good.