Sep 2, 2014

Above Michigan in a 4-Seater Plane

According to my uncle, my 145-pound bum in the backseat would keep the plane counterbalanced, so why don't I go up for a ride? "I am afraid," I said. But I could only put him off for so long.

My uncle's plane is from the 1960s, and has this brown-suede-Mad Men interior going on. The engineers who made her must have been so proud, so excited for a future where personal air travel is the standard.... A future that didn't come to pass how they had hoped.

1965 Cherokee Piper

I'm consumed by thoughts of nose-diving into the nearby cornfield. My uncle, I think, is fearless - he'll be piloting today. I climb into the backseat and put on my radio headset. It looks like an Xbox headphone, but this isn't a game. This is real. And I am afraid.

Today is very windy, and sunny. The wind blasts through the door and I'm freezing. It's far too chilly for a mid-August day. My uncle takes the pilot's seat.

"It feels like I'm in a James Bond movie," I said.

"So you're a Bond girl now, eh?" he says. Keith, his pilot's license instructor, comes in after him and takes co-pilot. My heart is pounding as I buckle my seatbelt. I think I'd die before I hit the ground from a heart attack. I am afraid.

Keith reminds me of a well-groomed Gandalf. Wise, full of logical advice to counter my fearful squeaks of concern. He recounts dangerous experiences he's navigated through, and suddenly this breezy, sunny day doesn't seem half as worry worthy; but I can still feel my heart beating through my throat.

The cockpit

The door is shut and air-sealed. The inside goes from being chilly to a sauna. We cruise over to the runway... and take off!

The winds are upwards of 25 mph, and the plane is lifted up into the air before the intended take off. My uncle tries to steer, but the winds carry him off to the west. The runway we were just on is suddenly east of us and we're slanted towards it. We're lopsided and my uncle is trying to straighten us plus gain altitude. The winds whip at us and my suppressed scream turns into a loud squeak -- Gandalf takes the controls, and with one fluid turn sets us straight. We bump and rock and jitter our way to 3,000 feet, my eyes shut tight and a death-grip on the seat cushions. I am afraid!

Gandalf talks to me in a smooth, conversational tone. I open my eyes and fight my fear back down into my stomach. He continues to tell stories and at last I release my grip on the seats. I look around and take in the view. It's still bumpy from rising heat pockets, but my uncle is flying into the wind and keeping us level. Every single time the plane jerks I have to fight myself to keep calm.

Michigan and Lake Huron from above

An hour or so later, we come down with a smooth landing, and cruise right back into the airport hanger. I exit the plane last, jumping from the wing down onto solid ground. My uncle nudges me and says I'll have to pilot it myself next time. I take deep breath.

I am afraid... but that won't stop me.

~ ~ ~

No comments:

Post a Comment