Friday, April 21, 2006

Passengers and Pilots

Sorry I've been a bit quiet recently - it's been a bit mad in both my personal and my work life, which leaves me with not very much time to formulate coherent thoughts. We're going away this weekend for a wedding and I'm really looking forward to the break, even if it is for only one night. A change of scenery should do me a world of good.

Not to worry though, I dug through my laptop to find a little something to entertain and amuse. (Or at least help you kill 10 minutes or so.) I wrote this with the hopes of getting it published in the "My Turn" column in Newsweek. Their loss is your gain...

I’m not a pilot. In fact, I don’t think I could even play one on the T.V.

I finally made the realization in a helicopter at about 400 feet, skimming through the air above a small forest. The trees looked like broccoli stalks and were close enough that I could make out the individual leaves. Ken, the instructor, was gently asking me to use the collective to keep the helicopter at a constant altitude while following through with him on the other controls. My eyes darted from the altimeter to the trees and back again. My head played a loop of all the dumb things I could accidentally do to drop us out of the sky.

After several minutes of pure terror, about halfway through a 20-minute intro ride, I told Ken “OK, I’m ready to be a passenger. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a pilot.” He laughed and made sure I wasn’t going to freak out in his helicopter. The second my hands were off the controls and my feet were firmly planted on the floor behind the pedals, I felt absolutely fine. Like I could relax and enjoy the ride.

I know a lot of pilots feel better when they are in control of the aircraft. A small aircraft pilot can be just as jittery as a “civilian” on a 747 but then command his Cessna-172 with the precision and confidence of a fighter pilot. I turn into a gibbering wreck anytime someone tries to give me control of an aircraft.

I know my limitations. I can drive a car and ride a horse, but I do not have what it takes to fly a plane.

The helicopter intro ride was not the first time I tried to get over my fear of piloting. I had two lessons in a Cessna-152. My husband, Peter, had his pilot’s license and we felt that I should at least learn the basics in case anything happened to him during a flight. In my first lesson, the instructor allowed me to follow through on straight and level flight and on a few turns. But my hands stayed clenched in my lap during take-off and landing.

When I told Peter the tale of my lesson, he said that the instructor should have let me follow through on everything, including the take-off and landing. He felt it was the mark of a less-than-confident instructor…until I confessed that I’d been unable to keep my eyes open for the take-off. Yes, in addition to being afraid of piloting, I have some fear of small airplanes, especially take-offs. I love landings though - one way or the other, you’re going to be on the ground soon.

To me, flying is like sausage – easier to enjoy when you don’t know what’s involved. The last time I was on a commercial jet, we’d been sitting on the taxiway for about 15 minutes when the pilot announced, “As you can all probably tell, we’re having a bit of trouble getting the engines started. We’re going to go back to the gate and get an air unit in here and then we’ll be on our way.” Engine and trouble are two words I do not want to hear together when I am on an airplane. If I can’t even hear about it, I don't think I'd be able to diagnose and deal with it. When I am at 30,000 feet, ignorance really is bliss.

I’ve spoken to pilots for whom flying was always a deeply sought goal, people who looked at birds with jealousy. A woman I met at a small airport once told me that all she ever wanted to do was fly. As a kid, she flew a ridiculously large kite with the hope of sailing off the ground. She got her private pilot’s license at a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. I admire that singleness of purpose and dedication to a dream.

I take comfort in the thought that I’m not the only one with my feet rooted on the ground. Plenty of married couples have a flying spouse and a non-flying spouse. I suppose it’s sort of like the weird Murphy’s Law that unites morning people with night owls. These marriages work just fine as long as the non-flier respects the pilot’s need to fly and the pilot respects to non-flier’s need to stay on the ground. Cajoling, bribing, and pouting are all ways to get the non-flier into the cockpit, but after a bit of turbulence, the pilot is going to wish she’d left the landlubber back at the airport.

There used to be a Volkswagen commercial that said “On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers.” The implication is clear, being a passenger is for lazy babies – all the cool kids are drivers. When it comes to flying, I am completely comfortable with being a passenger. I can look at the scenery instead of the gauges. I can take pictures instead of manipulating the controls. Peter can be The Pilot – I am The Passenger.


At 24 April 2006 at 02:08, Blogger Career Guy said...

So that explains why we couldn't reach you this weekend.

I don't think I knew about your helo lesson. My helo ride was awesome. I love to drive cars, but I'm fine as an air passenger.

At 24 April 2006 at 02:34, Blogger Arbusto said...

I had a flying lesson long ago. Just an introductory one. It was a lot of fun. However, my mom was stupid and wanted to ride along in the small plane. We had to cut the trip short because she was feeling sick. I'm still bitter.

At 25 April 2006 at 20:43, Blogger Terri said...

"flying is like sausage"... lol!!!

For a while there you could've been describing my attempt at learning to ski. There was just too much fear around to be able to enjoy myself.
It's much like riding a motorcycle - I love being the passenger but I don't want to drive the thing myself.

Life would be terribly boring if we were all the same, though.

At 2 May 2006 at 03:17, Blogger Battlerocker said...

First of all let me compliment you on your blog. I just found it and it is a very nice read. Second of all I wanted to ask you a question. I found you through one of your comments on another blog regarding freelance writing. You recommended two books, The Well-Fed Writer and Six Figure Freelancing. I was wondering whether you had had personal success with these books or if you had merely heard good things about them. I am interested in freelance writing and could use a point in the right direction, but have been let down by similar books in the past.

In any event, if you have no interest whatsoever in discussing writing with a total stranger I will take no offense. I will probably be returning to your blog regardless as your stories are quite entertaining. Thank you in advance for your time, and once again, nice blog!

At 3 May 2006 at 19:46, Blogger -Ann said...

Dad - I can't remember if I told you about my helo lesson or not. Probably not. A girl has to have some secrets, after all.

Arbusto - Well, when you're raking in the big bucks, you will have to treat yourself to some lessons to get over your bitterness.

Terri - You're absolutely right about sameness being boring.

Battlerocker - Thanks. :) I did have some success with both of those books and would be happy to "talk" to you about them any time.


Post a Comment

<< Home