The sun has come back to us. The long, dark, grey, cold, damp winter is gone. The grass is turning that perfect shade of green. The buds are popping out on the trees. Flowers are tentatively poking their heads out of the ground. The breezes are blowing. The birds are stretching out their wings. And the kids have those dirty little feet that show up in spring, and don’t seem to get properly clean again until November.
We got out for a stroll down the Greenbelt to look at the birds, the flowers, and the river. Just to breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on our faces.
My driveway and back patio look like a pastel warzone. Our grill is usually smoking with something delicious inside. It’s that perfect temperature when Johnny is comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, and I’m cozy in my sweatshirt.
Did I mention I love Spring?
To add to my delight, we had a beautiful day with no plans, no agendas, and no to-do lists. And I have a husband that has access to helicopters and pilots. So we put together the two and I had my first Discovery Flight. Meaning – I GOT TO RUN THE CONTROLS. YIKES!
My dear friend Sean Summers was my instructor. Our other friend Jeff Hill was the videographer. Yes, this was all documented. Both inside and outside the helicopter.
This at first made me a bit nervous. You know how watching yourself on camera can be. You never look or sound quite like you think you do in real life. And then there’s the fact that I was going to be doing something so new, scary, exciting… there was a really good chance I could make a complete ass of myself. But hey, I’m always game for that. ;)
Sean and I did the required pre-flight and SFAR 73 awareness training. So I could know everything that could possibly go wrong during our flight. There’s kind of a lot of things. <gulp>. Deep breath. Ok. Still going.
While Sean and I headed out to fly, Johnny and the girls hung out at the shop. Which he loves and so do they. Going to work with daddy is like the coolest thing ever for them. They moved stuff around, swept up some dirt, ate lunch on the work platform, played loud music. There may have been some motorcycle riding as well, but I think that was supposed to be a secret.
After the final checks had been made, Sean taxied us out to the runway for takeoff. He’s a very calm, easy person to be around. His instructions are clear and he has a way of telling you to do things that make it seem like it’s going to be so easy. Well, it’s not. But he still just encourages and corrects, always making you feel like you’re doing really wonderfully and that you’re not a complete idiot. It makes for a nice experience.
When he let me take the controls I think I laughed at him. REALLY?! You’re kidding. Uh, ok. So I took them. I’ll be honest. My memory of the next hour or so that we flew is a little fuzzy. I was so TENSE. My hand cramped up. My shoulder hurt. He was giving me so much information my head was spinning.
We flew along the Boise river (sort of) following the curves. As well as I could anyway. All this while trying to maintain a steady speed of 70 knots and some elevation that I now can’t recall. Seriously – I told you it’s a little fuzzy. Well, I did manage that part pretty well and was feeling mighty confident about my skills. When you fly a helicopter you use your feet to control the tail – creating the turn. You use your left hand to run the collective – the up and down movement. And your right hand is on the cyclic. And I’ll be honest – that thing I still don’t get. It will propel you forward or backward, or side to side. It’s amazingly complicated and terrifying, at least for those of us who haven’t figured out how it works. It’s all done with small gentle adjustments. No big movements. All finesse. Relax and breathe. It takes incredible concentration and hand-eye coordination. But I did it. I was flying.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. When I really started wanting to fly I was in junior high. It was when Top Gun came out. I was going to be a fighter pilot. Actually I wrote about that in a previous blog if you’d like to read about it.
Back to my first flight…
After cruising along the river, we decided to head back in for some hovering. Hovering is, according to all of my pilot friends, one of the most difficult things I’ll EVER learn. Like in my whole life. I’ll go ahead and agree with that. Every pilot I know – Johnny included – thought they really would never, ever learn. It’s really that hard. But, they all learned it eventually, so I might as well try!
Johnny, the girls and Jeff drove out to the end we were practicing on to take some video. Here’s a shot from that.
We’re in a nice pendulum swing here. Sean recovered us very nicely. And I wondered if I was going to need a change of pants when this was all over.
This was a little better but I’m only on the collective, not the foot pedals or cyclic. Controlling one or two directions is almost doable. All three is kind of a nightmare.
Before we came in, Sean wanted to let me experience a practice autorotation. This is a simulation of an engine failure. As you’re coming in toward the ground (really fast!) he cut the throttle so we started falling. My stomach jumped up a little. I think I made a weird little noise. And then we were there at the ground and Sean throttled back up and took us to the hangar. Easy peasy.
And then it was all over. I shook my head in disbelief. Sean and I laughed and took a selfie. He told me I was awesome. And frankly, I really felt like it.
That night when we watched the video, I cringed as I waited for that sound of my voice that isn’t my voice, or that feeling of embarrassment that comes when I usually watch myself. And it never came. I watched with amazement as this woman smiled, laughed, looked confident and excited, shared her joy and fear, awe and confusion, success and failure. And then I realized she was ME.
Here I am, terrified – and SMILING. I’ve got all three controls in this picture. And look – we’re LEVEL!
I hope that everyone gets to step so far out of their comfort zone. That you get to try something so daring and be scared – and joyful all at once. That you get to know the feeling of testing all of your limits. And I hope you smile all the way through.
Sean and me. My oh-so-dapper instructor. Thank you for making my first flight so AWESOME!
And to make it all official, I have my own logbook now. 1.0 hours. Yesssss…..
That was all on Sunday. Today is Thursday. I had a rare day of no children as both had been invited for playdates. What’s a girl to do with herself? Johnny invited me to come out and join him for lunch and a flight. This time with him. Of course I said yes.
For this flight we stayed close to the hangar and to the ground. Hovering, gliding, sliding (did you know you can just slide the skids along the ground?!? I didn’t. ) We flew for almost an hour and by the end of it I was absolutely spent. Again my body ached from the tension and my brain was overloaded. I had to ask him to go in and quit for the day. I was nearly in tears from fatigue and hunger. But I was happy. I felt I had done ok. Believe me, it still wasn’t “anything to write home about” ;) but for me just getting out there and DOING it is 90% of the battle. I’m actaully not that concerned about being good. Don’t get me wrong. I want to be good so I don’t crash, but I’ve left behind that fear of not being the best. Or of not passing the test. Or of not finishing. I feel like I’m finally just here. Right now. Enjoying the ride. Spending a rainy spring day cozied up in a tiny little helicopter cockpit with my best friend. Spreading my wings. Learning to fly.