Fly a Plane – "Your Town" Travel Guide

Fly a Plane

Élan is the ultimate fly girl.

The small two-passenger plane was propped outside her nestled garage hideaway. She stretched her wings, ready to soar. I walked towards Steve Searl, the pilot and owner of the plane. I had talked with him a few minutes earlier and he had invited me to go up flying with him. I had originally begun my day preparing to jump out of a plane for skydiving, instead I would be flying a plane because the gloomy weather that persisted made it dangerous to jump.

Steve has been a pilot for 13 years. He flew a helicopter, nicknamed “Loch”, for the military; he drew enemy fire to target and locate enemy ground troops. He now flies planes for leisure and pure enjoyment. Standing next to his plane, he was very nice and welcoming as I approached him. I was relaxed and calm as he asked how I was doing and if I was ready to fly. I answered back that I was more than ready, and a smile spread across my face.

He instructed me to step on the black section of the wing to hoist myself into the tiny cabin. He hopped in to the seat beside me and closed the overhead of the plane. I flung the seat belt over my shoulder and latched in.

The engine growled, as the plane awoke from her sleep. She screamed for the open, liberating sky. She was a new plane, built in 1977; painted beige with a red sports stripe wrapped around the sides of the plane.

We slowly approached the runway. Steve handed a headset to me and said that this was the only way we could communicate while in the air. He then checked all the meters in front of me to make sure the oil pressure, altimeter readings and all other settings were accurate and in the green areas. He gazed back at the wings, rutters and tail while explaining to me the in-depth, ritual procedures he did before take-off..

“Ready for take-off?” he asked through the headset. His robotic voice sounded in my ears as the engine roared with ferocity.

“Yep,” I replied, as I looked over at him my eyes gleaming with both excitement and uncertainty.

The plane hauled down the straightaway, picking up speed. When we reached 60 miles per hour Steve pulled up on the nose of the plane. “Air speed is what ultimately raises the plane off the ground,” he said. We gained altitude, going about 75 mph, which is the set speed for climbing in such a miniature aircraft.

We smoothly ascended towards the spongy clouds and hazy sky. Suddenly a buzzing sound filled my headset. He said it was the stall horn, which informed the pilot that there was too much pressure. We were rising too fast, too much of a steep incline, which caused the stall signal to sound. So, he pulled the nose down a bit and the buzzing subsided.

The air bumped the little plane up and down, like a tin can floating in the air. Steve looked over at me and gave me full range of piloting and flying the plane. His computerized voice captured my thoughts while I focused on steering the tiny aircraft. “The foot pedals are the main source of control when steering the plane,” Steve said. I was tremulous [trepidacious – as far as I can tell trepidation doesn’t take an adjective form] with my movements, but cautiously and gradually I grew comfortable with the plane.

I turned gently to the right, putting tension on the right petal as I turned the steering column in front of me. The frequency waves of nearby pilots mixed in our headsets, and in the distant static skydivers announced the minutes before their jumps. This was a precaution to make sure that our plane stayed clear while they ejected themselves to the ground.

“Look out at the horizon,” he advised as I gently straightened the plane out.

We gracefully soared through the sky, high above the little specs of life on the ground. The trees were merely green quilt patches. The black and white sheep were poke-a-dots on structured squares of farmland. The perfectly square sections of land and untouched patches of mountains formed a mosaic scenery. The world looked so much smaller; it’s amazing how big it seems when we are living in it, I thought.

Steve broke through my philosophical thoughts to compliment my flying.

“You’re holding altitude better than most pilots I know,” he said. “I’m very impressed.”

I began to grow confident, perhaps a little cocky in my flying abilities. However, I was soon humbled as my stomach grumbled with a feeling of air sickness. Steve took over piloting, dipping towards the rushing Willamette River and the mountainous valley below us. My stomach began to feel a bit quesy as we dropped and rose quickly – “the G-force,” as he called it, was not agreeing with my body’s natural equilibrium.

I hinted that it was fun but that I definitely was not used to flying, especially in such a little, fragile plane. He said he understood, and was quite used to it now, but when he first started it was not always smooth sailing. He began to describe how your stomach feels like it’s almost up to your chest, trying to ease my mind. Yet, as I held this image in my mind an intense feeling of sickness overtook me.

I asked for a bag, just in case my tummy decided to chuck it up. He opened the air vents and circulated fresh, cool outside air into the cabin. This made me feel extremely better, focusing my senses on something other than my turning insides. My body was confused with this airborne gravity.

Steve gently flew around the endless sky, clouds overhead, the earth below us. I told him that I attended the university near the airport, so we flew over the school. It was so small, in comparison to all the greatness and wonders that it presents. Perhaps I was biased, after spending a good solid four years of my young adult life there, engulfed by nothing but my studies and college life. The university was the center of the world for a good portion of my life.

The plane descended to the landing strip below, and my body grew anxious for the security of solid ground. Steve said he loved flying because it released him from gravity. It almost released me too! And half my breakfast!

The plane hovered over the runway as the wheels gently connected with the asphalt. A safe and smooth landing, and an un-hurled Élan. I was both relieved to be back on the ground, and appreciative of such an incredible opportunity.

The greatest thing that I gained from this experience was not just having the chance to fly a plane, but the insight that Steve unknowingly gave me: Always keep your eyes on the horizon. The destiny and discovery lies along the way, but always keep your eyes focused on your goal, and it’s smooth flying from there.

Riding High
Okay, realistically it’s not the easiest thing to be able to just hitch a ride with a pilot and learn to fly; I was extremely lucky. But here are some tips on roundabout ways that you might use to get in the air yourself:

Go to a smaller airport and ask about taking lessons. There are aviation schools at community colleges, or you can independently study about flying. (Advice: just don’t fly until you’ve actually been taught by a master, not too safe!)

If you’re not really into flying or getting sick, rent some documentaries about famous pilots in the military or read a biography on Amelia Earhart. Just allow yourself to be awe-inspired by flight!

What Do You Want Élan to Do Next?
Click here to send Élan ideas, suggestions or comments on ways to fire up the local hometown traveler experience.

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