Flight Lesson #5 or "The Saddest Day has Gleams of Light” — Sarah Winnemucca

7 November:

I know I’ve talked with you briefly about the flying stuff over the last couple of weeks. I had meant to write sooner about my most recent experiences, however, I’ve been consumed with studying for the big FAA written exam on Monday. More on that later. For now, here’s the one I REALLY wanted to write about.

29 October:

I had been trying to get into a flight lesson with our ground school instructor, Brad, and finally was able to schedule one which DIDN’T wind up getting canceled. I was scheduled for 5:00 pm on Thursday, October 29th. Around 1:00 that afternoon, my cell phone rang and it was from Dulles Aviation, the company who runs the training program. Knowing that the weather was questionable, I was fully expecting to hear that no one was flying, and that we’d have to reschedule. However, luck was with me, and Brad had called to see if I could be there any earlier. Since my boss had already told me that I could take whatever time off I needed to finish my training, I told Brad that I’d be there as soon after 4 as I could be.

So I took off from work around 2:30 and headed down the Capital Beltway to I-66 toward Manassas Airport, happy as the proverbial clam.

That was until I saw the clouds to the west.

The ceilings were pretty low, and it looked as though the chance of actually getting aloft was waning. But as I grew closer to Manassas, I could see brilliant sunshine behind the clouds to the west. This gave me some hope that I’d make it up today.

About 2 miles shy of the exit, there was an auto accident, so I was delayed and finally wound up at Dulles Aviation around 4:20-ish. Brad was ready to go, so we dashed out to the airplane, did the preflight and proceeded to the end of runway 34L for takeoff.

I gently shoved the throttle in to full causing the 160 horsepower engine to roar to life pusing me back against the seat. It’s kind of like the experience of flooring the accelerator in your car, but it noisier and you’re wearing headphones. But it’s the same thing. I pulled back on the yoke and the Cessna 172 cheerfully responded by lifting the nose upward beginning it’s take off climb leaving runway 34L behind me where it was supposed to be.

The dark clouds were well above us, but menacing nonetheless. If you’ve traveled in an airliner in cloudy weather, you have experienced it. You can see the bottom of the cloud layer above you with wisps of grey cloud stuff occasionally hanging down and passing closely overhead.

I climbed up to about 2300 feet, and the cloud layer was so close! I felt as though if I opened the window and stuck my hand up, I could touch them. But they were still dark and menacing. Clouds often spell disaster for pilots who fail to heed the warnings of the instructors to stay the hell away from clouds. Being prudent, we hung below them by the requisite 500 feet proceeding southwest toward the practice area.

Ahead of me I could see the edge of the cloud cover and the welcoming sunshine to the west just beyond. As we flew toward the west, the edge appeared to move toward me faster and faster, though we were flying at the same speed the whole way. As I approached the very edge, I could see the sun streaming down from above and illuminating the darkened landscape below.

I lived in Alaska for five years. I drove part of the way up, electing to take the ferry from Seattle to Haines, Alaska. But I drove down all the way five years later. I saw some amazing scenery in Alaska and western Canada. In fact, in all my travels, only that part of the world has shown me such inspirational majesty and breathtaking beauty as Alaska. Hands down. Bar none. The last time I got to experience Alaska in that fashion was in 1990

As the little Cessna cleared the edge of the clouds, I was treated to a sight far more majestic and far more beautiful and far more inspiring. I can’t describe it except to say that it would be something like an insect crawling out from under a very short table into direct sunlight. But that doesn’t do this scene any justice.

The beauty of it was literally breathtaking. And the once ultimate beauty of Alaska was demoted to the mere penultimate, replaced with the view as I emerged from under the clouds.

It was a feeling unlike any other I have ever experienced. It was unique in my experience.

It was magnificent!

And it made all of the angst I had been feeling about flying vanish just as the gray sky vanished behind me leaving me in the glory of the late afternoon sun.

Yep. It’s different now. That view and the genuinely fun lesson with Brad that followed made all of the previous weeks of worry worth it.

Now I know why people want to do this. It’s because of moments like that one.

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