July 13, 2003 spout

My First Flight Lesson

Normally a title like My First Flight Lesson” would be a metaphor for something else because I’m generally much more engaged by mental pursuits than physical ones. However, in this case it’s literal; Alan Cooper (the Father of VB) gave me a lesson in his plane (a Piper 6-seater).

Tim Ewald and his wife were staying at my house after the Dev.Conf., so Tim and I and the Sells brothers went to the local little airport to pick Alan up when he flew for an Saturday afternoon lark. When we got there, Alan invited us up for a sight-seeing trip. I volunteered to sit in the back with the brothers, giving Tim the front seat, but Alan insisted that I sit up front in the co-pilot’s seat, clearly having something in mind.

After we took off and Alan took us out of PDX airspace at around 2400 feet, he told me to take the yoke because he was turning off the autopilot. After that, he took me through part of a real lesson, including playing with the flaps via the pedals at my feet, banking, trimming, descending, leveling off after a descend and in general, crapping my pants. Flying a plane was not what I expected to do that day, let alone so close to the ground with non-trivial winds and thick cloud cover. Not one do we have plenty of bumps and *sideways* motion to make mere riding a harrowing experience, but I had my boys and Tim in the back with their lives in my hands in the front. I find the sensation beyond my feeble powers of description, but it was fabulous and terrifying and emproudening all at the same time. And at least I had control. All Tim in the back got was the terrifying part!

Alan said that I did well and had a natural ability to keep the nose up (apparently that’s a problem for newbies). Luckily, because he didn’t want to make the folks in the back puke, he didn’t turn off the engine like he said that he would normally do. Apparently there’s nothing like cutting the engine to give a new pilot experience with what actually happens (apparently the plane doesn’t drop like a brick no matter how many I were to drop in my shorts). Also, he said that normally he’d make me take off and land, but only in a Cessna, which has special landing gear for newbies, whereas had I done poorly on the Piper, I could’ve caused $200K worth of damage. On the other hand, while I was relieved not to experience the wonder of zero-engine flight or my first landing, I’m disappointed not to have those experiences as well. It was pretty damn cool to have full control in all three dimensions. That is, except when we overflew the helicopter that the tower didn’t warn us about and that we didn’t see til we were over it. Both Tim and I dropped some bricks when that happened…