I was in Rhode Island last week, and a very wonderful friend of mine who is also a pilot offered to take me out for a short flight from North Central Airport in RI to Bedford, MA. We’d planned this trip in advance, and I think my palms started to sweat from the moment he invited me until we landed several weeks later. He’d set our meeting up as a flying lesson wherein I’d actually be in the pilot’s seat with him beside me. After being reassured numerous times that he could control EVERYTHING from his side of the plane and override EVERYTHING I might do wrong, I said I thought it sounded like fun.
It was a gorgeous late spring day, and we commenced all the safety checks. We peered under the body, we checked the fuel level in each wing, we examined the tires, and we even played with the pitot tubes. The only thing I really screwed up at that point was placing my head inside the propeller field (I can’t remember the technical term for this, but it reverberated as stupid-ass in my head), which is a real faux pas, even if the plane isn’t running. I think I asked too many questions, in part because I was stalling and in part because I found it fascinating…and I listened intently, since I was gonna be in the pilot’s seat. I loved takeoff. What a rush. Whether it’s in a commercial jet or our Cessna Skyhawk, there’s nothing quite like feeling the wheels lift off—that moment when your usual perspective of the world changes by the second. I also really loved all the pilot talk—a very exacting language that probably appeals to me because I am an editor or maybe because everything sounds sexier through a headset. My feet were on the pedals (so happy I could reach them) and my hands were on the yoke (some might call it a death grip) throughout the trip, though I did learn that it’s preferable to fly one-handed to keep the other free…for nail biting, I figured. What a great way to sense the very subtle art of piloting.
My friend kept assuring me that a plane, above all, wants to fly. Our job was simply to help it along. Thanks, Al, for helping it—and me—along.