Jean Moule last wrote about African-American pilot Bessie Coleman for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.
I walked into the Salem Flight Training office to begin my 10 to 12 flight lesson. I was surprised to see Mark instead of Steve. “Steve had some work for the state,” Mark said when he saw my expression.
A bit surprised because I had let Steve know that, as my first instructor, I preferred him and he had simply cancelled or changed a flight before if he was not available.
Yet…my now flying addiction caused me to take a deep breath and go for it.
Since I have had two substitutes, at first I did not connect that, Ah ha…this is the guy that I almost flew with in February…when we did not even get off the ground…because of my poor taxiing…or so I thought!
We talk about our plan for this time. Mark suggests that I fly to the Corvallis Airport because he knows I have not landed elsewhere. “I am not ready for that,” I say. It is empowering, in a way, to speak to someone who has not flown hours with me and needs my input to know my perceived skills.
Mark sends me to preflight the airplane and we begin the routine…the one that usually has me work myself into a snag at something I know fairly well.
I manage to misplace my radio call cheat sheet. I decide to take the high road, “Guess I will have to get this out of my head this time,” I say. And then, at least twice, instructor points to the N-number right before me above the instruments. That is one piece of information I do not need to have in my brain…of course I should know it after 12 hours in this airplane. Brain freeze and a live radio connection is an incredible eraser.
Preliminaries done, we taxi. I am getting better at taxiing because now I connect that a slight brake allows the wheels to rotate in the direction you want to go. “Like a Caterpillar tractor,” my husband explained. As if I had any experience with them either.
So, we head to the runway. I do the radio calls and take off with just a bit of voice control from Mark. We head south. I circle over Education Hall at Oregon State University. My, what a perspective of the place where I worked so long and seldom visit in my retirement schedule of classes.
Mark takes photos. I enjoy the views and then we head east. For the first time I take the airplane up to 5,000 feet so that we are above the 4,200-foot Snow Peak that marks the high point of the area where my husband worked as a forester for 36 years.
We circle the forest below. The old growth fir trees that we see taller than the others are what is called “The Park” on the 12,000-acre Avery Property. The trees are about 500 years old.
We head down toward the ridge that runs under our property. I delight in showing Mark things on the ground that I know and he does not: Richardson Gap and the towns of Mill City and Lyons. It is difficult to find my house within the square of tall firs that grow up around it.
Then we head toward highway 22, the known road that leads back toward the airport.
While I have learned how to better trim the airplane to keep from tense and unnecessary tightness on the controls, we have been in the air over an hour and I am a bit tired. I think of asking Mark to land the airplane. There is so much to do, or so it still seems to me: Call the tower once at 10 miles and again when requested. Make sure no radio traffic is directed at you. Think of your approach into the pattern. Begin to get lower and slower. Lower those flaps. Adjust to the winds. Watch for other traffic. Et cetera.
While I know that Steve has some sense of what I can begin to handle with his help, I don’t know how my growing knowledge and skills will come together with Mark as we land with him doing some of the work. I decide to just ask him to do it all. But oh! Am I surprised! As Mark takes over the landing and I feel his hands and feet on the controls….I actually find anger rising up within me. Wait, I think, wait! I want to land this plane! “Give me something to do,” I say with a rise in my voice. Mark releases the yoke to me and talks me down.
Wow, what did I learn from this different instructor besides to focus on the N number right in front of me when making a radio call? I learned that….I want to fly this airplane….myself…
Two weeks later…My flight instructor and I had exchanged emails and I said that, weather permitting, I would like to fly over the mountains to Sisters and back and my husband would go with me. Steve says, “Weather permitting, going to Sisters is fine with me. There is a disadvantage in that you will grow more as a pilot by working on pilot skills rather than doing cross-country flights.”
Weather was not permitting according to my standard briefing, and then Steve called because he was not even sure the low scattered clouds over the Salem field would allow for our flight at all. Since I had to drive through Salem anyway, on my way from an overnight and appointments in Portland, I stopped.
Steve decided it was perfect for touch and gos near the airport. We went over the pattern and the radio calls. I find out he has eight or nine in mind, and I have two or three! We discussed which parts of this I would do. There is so much to consider: radio calls to tower, elevation, airspeed, carburator heat, flaps up or down, turns, flight path, other planes, yipes! Take off, do a circle, touch down, and then put full power on and take off again! We did this four times and I told him it was enough for me though he had more in mind.
My flight lesson on that Wednesday keeps me smiling: scary, challenging, learning, and fun. It was like a roller coaster and merry-go-round combined. I just start to giggle every time I think about it! My adrenaline rush for at least two weeks.—Jean Moule