Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sharing the Joy

Love of airplanes and love of flying are viruses. For someone who has the bug, it is difficult to understand why not everyone is so enthralled. Call it fear, nervousness, practicality, thriftiness, whatever -- from what I can tell, some people are simply immune to the joy and thrill of flight. Others are susceptible to infection, and just need exposure. When I first started my flying lessons, it was the fulfillment of something I had been dreaming about since I was quite little. Realizing that the ability to fly an airplane was something an average guy like me could attain, I was puzzled that not everyone was as excited as I by this Good News.

So it is with great joy that I occasionally discover someone else who is intrigued enough to be potentially infected by this viral infatuation. AOPA's Project Pilot mentor program is a means whereby a pilot (with the requisite disease) can provide advice and guidance to aspiring student pilots. For me, I just enjoy meeting even more people who want to talk about flying.

I volunteered for the Project Pilot program a few months ago, and my first mentee, Aykut, has now soloed and is working on his cross-country training. Happily, I think I have reeled in my second Pilot Project. Amy is an attorney in my firm and appeared immediately susceptible to aviation, though she hadn't been in a small plane. We originally aspired to get her signed up with an instructor so that she could have her first lesson before her 30th birthday. That didn't happen, due to busy schedules, but we did at least get her into the air. We went for a flight last night, just a few days before her birthday. She took a bunch of pictures, which she posted on Shutterfly and gave me permission to use here. All of the pictures (and amusing captions) are hers.

When Amy arrived at the airport, I introduced her to an instructor from my flying club, who would be happy to work with her. He suffers from a bad case of aviation -- he works for one of the big aviation government contractors and I found him just sitting in his truck at the airport, just to be near the planes, I think. After the introduction, I spread out a sectional chart and gave Amy a brief introduction to the airspace around the Gaithersburg, MD, airport. I explained about Class B shelves, the DC-ADIZ, and P-40, the Camp David prohibited area which was to be expanding later in the evening.

"Mind the rings, young jedi."

Amy then listened while I called Flight Service on the speakerphone for a standard weather briefing and to file DC-ADIZ flight plans. I had already briefed myself fully on the weather, and I prefer to file flight plans by computer. But with Amy listening, I could point out airports on the sectional as the weather briefer gave METAR and TAF information, helping to give her a broad picture of the weather.

Amy helped with the preflight inspection, reading each item off the checklist while I checked it, pausing occasionally for me to point out parts of the airplane.

"Time to buzz the tower, Goose."

"The art of parallel parking."

After the preflight inspection, she got in the plane and made engine noises while I took a picture. I like to make first-time passengers do that: if their nerves give out before the propeller starts spinning, it's a bad sign.

"Take me to your leader."

Amy didn't change her mind about going, so I finished putting together all my gadgets, then started the engine to taxi for takeoff.

"Ohh la la. Check out the gadgets."

"Greg, playing with the gadgets."

"Say cheese."

We took off and I headed north toward Sugarloaf Mountain, then west toward Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Harper's Ferry is a favorite sight-seeing destination for me when I take new passengers, such as Dave & Jess, Eric, and Jodie. It's geographically interesting and historically significant due to its role in the Civil War. It's not far from Gaithersburg, and it's fun to follow the Potomac upriver to reach it. The late-afternoon sun cast some beautiful colors on the hills.

"Yes, your seat is also a flotation device."

"Up, up, and away!"

"Following the Potomac."

After circling around Harper's Ferry, I decided to land in Frederick to fill the plane with fuel. The fuel prices at Gaithersburg are outrageous, so my club tries to fill up at other airports whenever possible. Frederick has a self-serve pump that is about fifty cents per gallon cheaper than Gaithersburg, and the plane we were flying was only half-full when we took off. By filling it at Frederick, I saved the club about $12-15.

As we headed toward Frederick, I let Amy hold the yoke and fly the plane for a bit. I showed her how to make it climb and descend, and how to bank for a turn. She had the basic feel of it within just a couple minutes.

"I'm flying!"

"Look Mum, no hands??"

The sunset was gorgeous. I took the controls to descend toward Frederick and Amy snapped some photos.

"When do we practice rollovers?"

This next photo is my favorite from the entire flight. I don't know that I've ever looked out the back window of the plane while flying. With the sky lit up, it's a beautiful picture.

"All together now: Le Sigh...."

I pulled off a greaser of a landing at Frederick, and proceeded to literally and figuratively pat myself on the back. That was when I noticed that my soft drink had been sitting on the floor of the plane the entire flight. The whole flight (including the landing) had been so smooth that it hadn't tipped or moved.

"Proof of the soft touch landing."

I refueled in a hurry so we could take off and try to catch some photos of the fading sunset, but I was too slow.

"Does this thing take regular?"

We took off and headed east while I waited for permission to enter the ADIZ, then headed back to Gaithersburg as the last light faded from the sky. During my preflight passenger briefing, I had told Amy that during certain phases of the flight, I would let her know not to talk. Takeoff and the approach to land are two times when there's a lot going on and the pilot is going through a lot of checklists, either by referring to a written checklist or from memory. As we approached Gaithersburg, I told Amy that we could resume talking on the ground.

"Talking: No.
Pictures: Yes."

"I don't want to land."

My landing at Gaithersburg wasn't perfect, though it was still better than a lot of airliner landing I've been through. After I secured the plane, we walked to the cars. I opened the back of the car and handed Amy three books to get her started on her own license. She later sent me an email with a link to the pictures and a note saying that she thinks she can do this and would like to learn more about the different options for flying clubs.

So I'm psyched for a successful recruitment. Of course, this is only the beginning of the indoctrination process, but her caption on the last photo makes me happy. If nothing else, even if she doesn't pursue the license to completion, she'll have this flight as a good memory of how fun and beautiful general aviation can be.

A final note: this flight was significant for me, as well, if only because I surpassed the 100-hour mark. When I shut the plane down at Gaithersburg, I had 100.6 hours of flying time in my logbook. As any pilot will tell you, flying time is not deducted from our allotted lifespans, so more is better!


Anonymous Tammy said...

Dear Greg,

Please keep my friend safe and be patient with her ... I know she can be a very difficult person at times.

Thanks ever so much, her very very bestest friend, Tammy.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

A year and a day later, it is hard to know where to start... I guess I could have done a better job minding the rings. But I never was one for doing what I was told. I fly because it frees my mind from the tyranny of petty things. I still use YJ as my flying call sign. Now it's me that has over 100 hours and you 200. I know that it's called a spin, not a rollover. I also know that spins are way fun. Bravo Alpha has been replaced by the Tiger. I am not allowed to spin the Tiger, however. :) I could go on, but, all in all, the indoctrination process was very successful. Thank you for infecting me with the virus. Thanks also for introducing me to a great sport, and for being such a terrific mentor, difficult student though I may be...

12:46 PM  

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