stuff all comes from someplace. My dad always wanted to fly fighter
planes, but his life took a different turn. Nonetheless, flying
always captivated my father. He had recordings of Arthur Godfrey
narrating the sound of the jet age...followed the space program
with passion...and later visited Cape Canaveral with the press corps
to photograph several shuttle launches.
would take our family (four kids, two adults, beginning with the
oldest maybe nine years old) to the Air Show at the Canadian National
Exhibition every year. I
used to hate the airshow. I wanted to be on the rides, and of course
we weren't old enough to be wandering around by ourselves. The choices
were: either sit and watch the airshow with Dad, or go over to see
indoor exhibitions, which were at least air-conditioned, with Mom.
The airshow was marginally more interesting. It was hot. The planes
were screaming loud for small ears. Whatever drinks had been brought
along in the thermos were either gone or too warm to bother with
by 1:30. Most years, we weren't even within earshot of the commentary,
so I rarely knew what I was seeing...but Dad thought it was wonderful,
so it had to be good.
I used to
hate the airshow.
after that, I'd go anyway, "just because". That was where
I fell in love with the Vulcan. I appreciated the important job
the CL-215 did, and the same with the SAR helicopters, but whirly-birds
never really did it for me. I liked the fighters. And I eventually
figured out why the Snowbirds were on at the beginning of the program
and the Birds or Blues were on at the end. The best year, there
were the Birds AND the Frecce Tricolore! In 1987, the last
summer before I left Canada for Washington I went to all four days
of the Airshow. Wouldn't miss it for anything!
But I digress.
In 1987, I found
myself with the time, money, and courage to explore things that
I had never tried before. One of those things was to fly aerobatics,
like the airshow pilots.
looked up flying schools in the Yellow Pages, and found that the
only one offering aerobatics was so far out I had to get my Dad
to drive me (I had no car). I called up and said "I want to
fly aerobatics." They said, "Yeah, ever flown a plane
before?" I said, "No, why, does that matter?" "It's
kind of unusual, but okay," was the reply.
When I met
my instructor, Rick, he seemed a bit skeptical. He must have figured,
"this little dolly ain't goin' nowhere". On the way out
to the plane, he asks casually, "How do you feel about the
rides at the Exhibition?" I reply that I can't find enough
people to go with me on the rides that make everybody else sick.
He doesn't buy this. I can tell. I ask how long we'll be up. He
says he doubts that we'll be up for a whole hour, but that depends
on how I feel. (I can tell he's expecting overtime for the cleaning
crew.) If I'm enjoying it though, we can stay up, right? It's up
to me? "Uh, yes," he smiles, a smile that give away nothing.
He really wants to get this over with. They were running late, and
he had to switch me for one of his regulars.
tell him that I skipped breakfast as a precaution, and went out
to see Top Gun for the first time just to get in the mood.) His
walk-around was very quick, and exactly what he was doing was not
at all explained, but I followed him anyway. I am introduced to
the instrument panel. Not that I have a very good idea of what most
of this stuff is for.
He give me
the safety briefing. I put on the belts. Finally, Rick explains
how the door opens, and that if I should need to detach the door
altogether, you open this and pull that, and the door will fall
off. I ask why I would need to know this, but cannot recall the
I turn the
key and the engine roars to life. He shows me how the rudder pedals
control the nosewheel, and I try them out. Slowly we get into the
lineup to taxi. (If we did a runup, I don't think I had any idea
what it was, and didn't notice.) Dad is standing by the ramp, and
salutes as we go by. I try very hard not to notice. I am twenty-seven,
and dying of embarassment. I hope my instructor doesn't see him.
we're next for takeoff. We get into position, and he looks at me
and asks, "Well, do you want to do the takeoff?" I am
surprised. I look over at him and ask, "Are you sure that's
not a tremendously bad idea?"
right back, just a little bored, and explained, "Lady, you
can't do anything to this aircraft that I can't recover from."
that really cheers me up! What do I do?"
just push this black knob all the way in, and ... wait... pull back
on the column... " ... nose in the air and *pop* Good gracious!
I'm flying! "Oh S***!" I exclaim. I had hoped to say something
a bit more elegant, but there it was.
"Relax," says Rick. "You're all tense." (Hm.
Had he been talking to all my future instructors?) You only need
one hand on the column; the other rests right here on the throttle."
I scan my body mentally, take a deep breath, and exhale to release
the tension all at once. Goodness, such a light touch is all that's
part is that it feels incredibly natural. I have always known how
to do this. It is like coming back to an art I have been away from
for a long time, but slip into like warm bathwater. We climb some
more, and I try a turn, and begin to understand (or perhaps recall)
how to cruise at a given altitude. In this plane, that's done with
the horizon about 1/3 up the windshield from the cowling.
We get to
the practice area, about five miles distant. There's a bit of high
cirrus, and some small scudding clouds at about 2000 feet, but unlimited
ceiling. It's cold (very cold; late November in Canada), but a bright
blue day with friendly haze out over yonder and not much turbulence
at all once we get above 1500'.
just a bit about clearing turns, and then we begin with a Chandelle.
He does it twice, and then hands it over to me. I do one right,
one left. Well. *That* was easy. "How are you doing?"
What's next?" I beam. He explains the wing-over. "...and
you bring her 'round like this, and you just let the airplane fly
itself...see, it pops right back up. Now, bring the nose up and
the horizon back to cruise attitude. Want to try it?"
Off we go.
about an aileron roll?" I ask, not wanting to miss out on anything
I was promised.
the listing for the minimum speed you need for the manoeuvre: 115
knots. Drop the nose to pick up speed...I've got it, this time...then
full right rudder and full twist of the column to the right, with
one hand on the top right and one on the bottom of the left side."
And around we go! I hardly feel a thing, and am not disoriented
in the least. The previous two moves involved more G-force than
this one does. This move quickly becomes a favourite. I do one to
the right, level off, and... "What are you doing now,"
he asks. "I'm doing one to the left!" I reply triumphantly.
RIck is a bit amused that I like this so much. I'm having the time
of my life.
how about a loop?" I press on.
right: we pick a road to centre on down there. Pick up some speed.
Now, bring the nose up to 45 degrees; I'll work the throttle. Watch
the G's; you want to keep pulling back on the column so that the
G's rise evenly until you hit 3 G's. Look through the skylight;
that's Highway 7. Now, bring her around, and level off. That's it."
I like that
a lot. We do that a couple more times. Rick explains that there
are other manoeuvres that pull 4 G's, but he is pretty firmly reluctant
to do them on a first time out. I'm not going to fight with him;
I'm not exactly bored yet. I ask to do another couple of aileron
rolls. We do loop-and-roll. And more loops. And it's time to fly
along the way, I remember the camera I was invited to tuck beneath
the seat. I laugh at myself a little. The only picture I would have
wanted is one from outside the plane anyway.
I get to
fly home, too, checking the heading and remembering to stay high
enough up so as not to annoy the people who live in the area or
to bang into the escarpment. I can well understand how one can wax
eloquent about the fusion of man and aircraft. I can't say I've
reached that point (of fusion) but I feel *so* comfortable flying.
It's like something I've always known how to do.
I have no
fear (neither do newborns) and have utter trust in my instructor.
He takes over as we come in to land.
to ask about doing more than one roll in a row, or about flying
a lazy eight, or doing an outside loop, or flying upside down for
an extended period of time...but I have a feeling there may be other
did she do?" my dad asks. (Dads.)
seems to like being upside down more than right-side up," Rick
a good deal about that flight afterwards, to see whether that flight
had lit a deep interest; to see if this was a thing I really wanted
to do again. Not until much later did I realize that for me, that
flight was not so much a beginning as a return to a part of my soul
and my spirit that had been lost. Two months later, the tumblers
all clicked into place, and the doorway swung open. I began to fly
in earnest, and learn why all the things I did that day were possible
(and what all could have gone wrong)!
of the story I didn't hear for many months was that, as I took off,
Dad wondered why he'd been waiting all these years. The next week,
he signed up for ground school in Oshawa. He didn't tell me until
after he'd flown over fifteen hours, and I had spent many evenings
trying to explain to him what I was learning about aviation and
wondering why ol' Dad wasn't more interested. He said one reason
he finally gave in was because he couldn't play dumb anymore with
a straight face.
Gotta watch 'em.