Five hundred feet after take off, and my phone lights up with an incoming text message, “You in the air yet?”
Climbing swiftly to one thousand feet, I type back a quick “yes.”
I know. I shouldn’t text and fly. I’ll probably get crucified for such an unsafe act. But before you get too anxious for my safety, I had another pilot in the right seat, fully capable to take over the controls.
The next message that pops over, “fly over house?”
“Ok,” I reply. “ETA 3 Min.”
Three minutes. It takes me a good twenty minutes, maybe twenty-five in traffic, to make the drive from my house to the airport. And its not that pleasant of a drive. Scenery sucks, traffic is horrible; too many red lights and four way stops that just get in the way of progress. Yet in the air – three minutes. No traffic. No stopping -nothing buy clear skies and the drone of our engine.
Life from above is air therapy. Sure there are moments of nerve, and sometimes a real pucker factor – like landing in a 20 knot cross wind. It is like having a masseuse that drives their knuckles into the small of your back so hard that you’re pretty sure they are trying to feel around for what you had for breakfast a week prior. It hurts, but the moment their hands come free, you feel this total release. Well, that’s the thing with flying. You have moments that make you tense, and then moments of complete carefree relaxation. Flying is an exercise of the mind and the body, and no wonder that when we get done flying we’re ready for a hearty cheeseburger or a stiff drink.
Today I got the gentle massage, however. There was a bit of a crosswind, but nothing of any great proportion or much of a challenge. This wind was actually quite fun, as it allowed me to perfect my one wheel landing, holding that upwind tire on the runway, flying the airplane while it kissed the ground ever so softly. Two good landings like that, and you experience a high so enlightening that some folks might expect you to move to Denver just so you’d fit in a bit better. And it would be legal.
It is time, though, to start really training my father to fly the Stinson. He’s a fine pilot in the air. Fairly coordinated on the stick and rudder, relaxed on the controls, and hasn’t got us lost yet. However, the nature of a taildragger at ten feet off the ground just seems to throw him. And its a hard thing to train. So we took a different approach. I just talked through what I was doing on the landing, and showed him that flying the Stinson to the ground has more to do with a controlled descent. You don’t land a Stinson. You fly it onto the runway. Carrying just a touch of power, keeping the speed just so, flying the airplane to the tarmac until the wheel squeaks. Then fly it down the runway and bleed the speed off. Things get interesting ten feet from the ground while controlling that connection from air to ground. It is something that you have to learn to feel your way through. Every plane has their connection. Some prefer the three point. Some prefer the high angle of attack wheel landing. Some walk, and some run. And no doubt everything is much easier when the nose stays straight down the runway, for if you let that beast loose, your landing goes to *insert expletive* real quick.
I am confident he will learn these skills. I am also confident I will require some sort of drug to keep me mellow when I hand over the keys. But nothing illegal. I swear. This is Ohio after all, not Denver.
Unfortunately, our lessons and time in the air is still quite limited. It was with an unexpected surprise to find a couple hours this afternoon to get some air therapy, as tomorrow brings the next round of “Death Storms” and the possibility of 2 – 12″ of snow – depending on who you might believe. But when this finally melts off and the temperatures stay above freezing, I expect to spend too many evenings back at our lovely airfield, smelling the exhaust, the gentle breeze blowing over the sewer treatment plant, listening to the traffic from the interstate, and maybe having a grill out or two at Hangar 35.
Folks, flying season fast approaches. And Big Red Airlines still offers hot towels and first class service. So book early, and book often. Price of admission: a good heart, good jokes, and ability to just be. Yes, here at Bid Red Airlines, we offer the rewarding chance to make your butt pucker and guarantee that when you get back on the ground, you’ll never be more relaxed and glad to be alive! For those skeptics out there, first flight is free.