Your connection with the sky

Keep Calm and Fly On

One of the moments I was most looking forward to when I was a student pilot was taking others on introductory flights and sharing the joy of aviation with them. Since receiving my private pilot certificate, I’ve flown four people who had never been in a general aviation aircraft before, or at least not one that was as small as the Cessna 172 that I fly. Not only was it a learning experience for those I flew, but it also taught me a lot and exposed me to situations I never experienced as a student.

The first time I took a passenger, I was flying one of my best friends whom I had blown off plans with a few times due to my rigorous training schedule in the weeks leading up to my check ride. Garrick had been in a general aviation plane before on a skydiving trip, but he hadn’t been in a four-seater like this or been at the controls of the plane. The day we were slated to fly, I had been monitoring the arrival of a cold front moving through the area, and called Garrick at the last minute to tell him the flight was still on. With the short flight I had planned, I felt confident that we could fit it in before the front pushed through the area. We took off and went southwest to Winchester, Virginia (KOKV). As soon as we touched down, I made a split second decision to do a touch and go (which I was used to doing with my instructor because she would raise the flaps for me). That went off without a hitch, and we were on our way back to Frederick in no time.

About halfway home, somewhere over Charlestown, WV, our plane started hitting a few bumps. Before we knew it, we were rocking and rolling all over the place. The front must’ve caught up with us faster than I thought! I thought back to all the times I was told how important it was to keep your passengers calm, and that the best way to do that was appearing calm on the outside. Well, I can tell you that I didn’t feel calm AT ALL! All I was thinking was, “Great, I take my friend flying and then I put us into an invisible whirlpool.” However, I just kept quiet and focused on staying in control of the aircraft. As we got closer to the mountains, I felt a slight sense of relief because I knew the airport was on the other side. At one point, Garrick asked, “Hey, so what do you think we should do Saturday night?” I thought, “Saturday night??!! I just want to make it through the next ten minutes!”  I calmly told him to hold on and that I would discuss plans with him after we were on the ground because I needed to concentrate on my approach into the FDK airspace. After we landed, I took a deep breath and was happy to learn that Garrick had really enjoyed the flight. I enjoyed it, too, because I let him fly for part of it and got to nag him about maintaining his altitude, as my instructor had once done to me.

The next time I took a passenger, I was flying my priest’s niece (try saying that five times fast) and her friend. They were on Spring Break from college and had never been in a small plane. I was thrilled to give them their first flight. They were so excited that they were dancing around wearing big smiles as I was preflighting. We got all set to go, I gave them their passenger briefing, and tuned in to the weather to hear what runway we would be using. Instead, I didn’t hear anything. Confused, I tuned into both ground and tower to see if my radios were working. I still didn’t hear anything. I panicked and started calling my instructor and my boyfriend to see who would pick up first. My boyfriend came out and I shut down the plane so we could work with the radios. He finally just called ground control for a radio check and they replied “loud and clear.” We then learned that the ASOS wasn’t working, so that’s why we couldn’t hear the weather. Additionally, it was just a quiet day at the airport and not many people were flying, hence the silence on the radio. Feeling sort of silly but relieved, I then tried to restart the plane using the hot start procedure. I was having trouble with it, and eventually ended up flooding the engine. I began growing very frustrated and almost thought about scrapping the whole thing. However, these girls were so excited that I knew I needed to make this happen for them. I waited another minute, collected my thoughts, and finally got the engine started. They were practically squealing with delight as we took off, and I was filled with joy that they would always remember taking this flight with me.

I soon got a request from my sister to take her friend DJ flying. He was really interested in aviation and asked me tons of questions as I was preflighting. We were going to fly to York, Pennsylvania (KTHV) for breakfast. It was a beautiful morning, and I had been practicing the route and approach into York so that I would feel very comfortable. It was also the first time my sister was flying with me without another CFI on board. I went to turn the key and the prop didn’t move. “Of course,” I thought. Nothing ever goes right when I try to fly someone. Again, I panicked and called everyone I knew. One instructor thought that the plane was just chilly and needed to warm up. Another said that the starter was wearing out. A third one said that the alternator was failing. I was feeling completely defeated and embarrassed. Meanwhile, DJ and my sister no prescription viagra were sitting in the plane wondering what was going on, and I’m sure their nerves were creeping up cheapest viagra on them as they wondered whether this plane would be safe to fly if we even got it started. I went ahead and tried one more time, and it started effortlessly. We had a fantastic flight to breakfast and DJ got to fly for part of it, much to his delight. To this day, I’m not sure what the problem was, but I was grateful that we got to follow through with the morning’s plans.

These experiences flying, as frustrating as they were at the time, have taught me so much. In the case with Garrick, I really learned the airplane’s capabilities and how to remain calm even when I felt very uneasy. I can imagine if I had said, “Wow, this is really bad turbulence; I hope everything turns out ok,” he might have started to worry. Instead, I concentrated on the task at hand and got us down safely. Flying the two young ladies also showed me how easily I can check on the radios myself if that should ever happen again. It seems like such a small thing, but I could have avoided a lot of frustration and having to inconvenience others by having to come out to the plane and troubleshoot with me. I also learned that I need to brush up on my warm/hot start procedures. These are a couple of those details that you are required to learn before your check ride, and once that’s over, can fall to the wayside. That also relates to my flight with DJ and my sister, which taught me that there are many situations that can occur within the aircraft systems that can affect something as simple as just turning the prop. If I had been more knowledgeable about those factors, I might have been able to think through the problem myself without dragging so many people into the situation and causing my passengers to worry. As CFI extraordinaire and my friend Jason Schappert says, “A good pilot is always learning.” I realized through all of this that studying procedures and aircraft systems is something I really need to stay current on so that I’m always prepared. They make you learn it in your early training for a reason, and it’s no use to you if you don’t read through it every once in a while.

I do hope to continue giving my friends introductory flights and exposing them to what aviation is all about. Faking it until you make it works in some cases, but when you have peoples’ lives in your hands, faking it won’t always cut it. However, I’m determined to brush up on my skills beyond takeoffs, cruise, and landings so that when I do fly with them, I display more confidence in my actions. But most importantly, I need to do this so that I feel that confidence in myself.  

One Response to “Keep Calm and Fly On”

  1. Good read. I also liked the pictures.

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