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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Friday, October 28, 2005

Come Fly With Me...

One of the greatest thrills for any freshly-minted pilot has to be that of taking passengers flying. While you are allowed to set off alone before passing your checkride, you cannot legally act as pilot in command with people onboard unless you have earned your license.
Fittingly, my very first passenger was Jen, my girlfriend at the time and now wonderful wife. We met shortly after I earned my private license and within weeks she agreed to join me for a flight. Oddly enough, I seemed more nervous about the experience than she did when we met at the airport. As we walked out onto the ramp, however, she grew a little tense.
Then she saw the plane: trusty old 4791G, a 1973 Cessna 172N for which I have much affection since she safely accompanied me on my very first cross-country and helped me through my checkride.
"Hmm, I'm supposed to get into this," Jen asked, pointing at the old bird.
I assured her 91G was a very safe airplane, the best of the older fleet of 172s at my FBO.
We hopped in after preflighting and I walked Jen through the passenger briefing, which includes proper use of seatbelts, emergency procedures and a gentle "don't touch anything, and if you're going to touch anything don't pull on this red knob."
As we taxied out to Hanscom's runway 29, I walked her through our flight, a simple out and back to the Wachuset Reservoir 15nm away, and reminded her that if she felt uncomfortable we could turn around and land.
A thourough run-up later, we were barrelling down the runway and I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. This moment was very special for me and I hoped it would be for Jen too.
Seconds after rotating, I glanced at her quickly to see how she was doing. Her hands were both clenching the door with a death grip. Busy with take-off, I focused on my duties but soon heard a wonderful "Wow! This is awesome!" coming from the right seat.
As we passed through 400ft, my special passenger was afforded a breathtaking view of the New England foliage on a perfect flying day with no winds and clear skies. Knowing she was now enjoying the view, I relaxed too and leveled off at 2,500. Being a Boston-area native, she began to pick out landmarks with great enthusiasm as we headed to the reservoir, where I descended to 1,000 AGL and circled islands that seemed to be on fire with the bright red and orange foliage amid tranquil and glassy waters.
Half-an-hour later, we headed back to Bedford where the controller advised me we had two F-16s in the pattern for 29. I set up on a left base for runway 5, which took us over a beautiful meandering river that glistened in the rich orange glow of the setting sun. As I rolled out on final, the fighter jets were instructed to hold on the left side of 5. With their canopies open, both pilots sat in the formidable machines and watched us come in. The pressure to make the perfect landing was truly there, and our touchdown was thankfully soft and on the centerline. I turned off at the first exit and the F-16s followed behind us, their powerful jet engines whisteling.
I couldn't have asked for a more perfect first passenger flight.
After that, Jen began flying regularly with me and we have since travelled together to Laconia, NH (KLCI), Martha's Vineyard (KMVY) and other spots in Maine and Connecticut. She's one brave woman, having even come up with me in beaten-up 80725 for emergency descents and steep turns on her third flight and sat in the backseat on one of my instrument lessons during which we practiced slow flight, stalls and unusual attitudes.
Since then, I've had the privilege of taking her sister Laura, an aspiring private pilot, up before she began training, my stepdaughter Emily, both my brothers and the girlfriend of one of them, my cousin and her apprehensive roomate and a friend of mine currently working toward his ticket.
In every case, the nervous flyers relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful New England landscapes and the only minor mishap was my motion-sickness prone brother Stephen -- an aviation nut -- getting ill during a flight on a very warm day.
Each experience was extremely rewarding for me and a learning one too. For instance, I was dying to take my brothers up flying and the day I'd booked turned out to be quite hazy, casting doubt on whether we'd get to complete our flight to Martha's Vineyard.
The weather reports called for VFR conditions but immediately after take-off I realized visibility was down to about 3 miles, not condusive at all to any kind of sightseeing flying and certainly not conditions I would be willing to risk my brothers lives in. So I called tower, re-entered the pattern, landed and with great sadness tied the plane down.
While all pilots in training read and are told about "get-there-itis" -- the potentially dangerous tendency to take risks to make it somewhere at all costs -- I'd often wondered whether I'd ever fall victim to it. With every report of a downed plane due to negligence on the pilot's part, such as launching into unfavorable conditions, I'd shake my head and ask myself why he or she had not just scrubbed the flight instead of chancing it. But then I'd question my own judgement. Could I be pressured by a burning desire to get there? Of course I could, like any other pilot.
But while I'd been looking forward to this flight to KMVY with my brothers for weeks I quickly decided that the risk wasn't worth it, especially if the haze were to thicken any further, which was a distinct possibility.
A few days later, on a much clearer day, I finally got my chance to take Stephen and his girlfriend Jo up and even let her make a few shallow turns.
When she exclaimed "I'm flying! I'm flying the plane!" I smiled and felt happy that I could share my passion for flying with others.


Blogger Dave said...

Great Post! You've captured the feelings I have taking friends and family up. After first getting my license, I took my girl friend up and immediately after takeoff she asked to land. Logbook has it as 0.3 hours. 31 years later this same girl (now my wife) tried it again and really enjoyed it. This time it was 1.2 and she asked when we could do it again. "If at first you don't succeed..."

11:29 AM  

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