I peered out of the window into the darkness below. The only indication that anything aside from a black void was below us were the sparkling lights of cities and towns as we flew over them. I was still in the first few hours of my initial pilot training over a decade ago, and experiencing my first night flight as a ride along with “big Reid” to Chattanooga made me wonder, at times, if I was cut out for flying. The mix of not fully understanding everything around me, along with the height and lack of visual cues was a bit dizzying. Driving to the airport this morning, I wondered how my son, Reid (named after big Reid), would handle his first flight. He’s not crazy about heights and I doubt I could get him on a roller coaster. I was prepared for three no-go points. First, getting in the plane. I thought we might just get there to have him shy away from the whole experience. Second, takeoff. I mentally readied myself for a vocal concern around the time of calling “airspeed alive.” Lastly, I figured we might be turning back to the airport while climbing out. I wouldn’t blame him. After all, it’s not for everybody.
What I didn’t expect – at all – was how cool, calm and confident he was. As I explained what I was doing throughout the preflight, startup and taxi to the runway, I was pleasantly surprised by his response. It was a series of “okays” that almost sounded like “yeah you’ve told me that before, dad – how about I try it on my own?” None of the no-go points ended up being a factor. In fact, some smoke from a field burn five or so miles off our wing was the first thing to catch his attention once we were airborne. The excited squeal of his excitement to point it out to me was a huge joy and relief.
He seemed to be right at home in the air.
We cruised from our home airport of Thomson-McDuffie (KHQU) over to Winder (KWDR). We went to Winder so that the flight was far enough to count as “Cross-Country” time, which is 50 nautical miles away from where we started. Athens (KAHN) is a painfully close 48 miles away, so an additional leg was needed. Every pilot seems to be judged by their landing – I’m sure you rated the last Delta flight you took by the landing alone. Even the most experienced pilots, though, have good landings and bad landings. It’s said that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, but I’m thankful – and probably just kinda lucky, too – that Reid’s first landing happened to be a greaser. Sorry, I don’t have any GoPro footage to prove it.
Remember that pilot bear with the leather jacket and flight goggles I mentioned in the last blog? It was still on the shelf in the airport sales case, just as we had hoped.
Reid couldn’t wait to go to the pilot’s lounge. Not because there was anything there of interest to a six year old, but that’s just the culture, and he seems to embrace it. That night Flight to Chattanooga so long ago? We got a Coke out of the machine and headed back. There’s something beautiful in the simplicity of the mundane at a destination airport. It’s as if eating that turkey sandwich from the vending area today was like planting a flag on the moon – only we had a little more gravity.
I told Reid that he could feel along on the flight controls from his side of the airplane on the way back. I don’t think either one of us thought about it. We picked up flight following on the way back home, where a controller watches us on radar to separate us from any other traffic in the area. After alerting us to converging traffic 1000 feet below and 4 miles away, Reid was busy looking for that airplane. But while turning to final approach back at Thomson, I noticed that Reid reached out for the yoke with gentle fascination as he followed along my rollout to line up with the runway.
The matching Maverick and Goose shirts were an early Father’s Day gift from Reid.
A plane lands by stalling the wings just inches above the runway. People tend to think of a stall as the engine quitting, like when you hear of a stalled car adding an hour to your commute home from work. But in flying, wings need to be moving fairly quickly through the air to generate lift – the reason you throw a paper airplane instead of just dropping it. When you slow to the airspeed that the wings no longer generate lift, and you happen to find yourself just above a runway, the weight of the plane shifts from being supported by the lift of the wings to being supported by its landing gear. When the wings approach a stall, a small screened opening on the front of the wing senses the suction that begins to occur to that part of the wing, and what you hear is the stall warning horn. It sounds a bit like a tea kettle whistling through a kazoo. Well, I guess Reid noticed the stall warning horn on the final landing back home. He looked at me and laughed as we slowed down on the runway. “Dad, that sounded like a clown’s nose.”