Stage Check 1, By The Numbers

Number of take offs: 4

Number of landings: 4 (these should usually be equal)

Mistakes made: 1,345

Percent that I was so nervous my mouth was dry: 75

Times the instructor said “Just do it!”: 17. (What, is this guy Nike, or what?)

Price of lunch at the drive through afterwards: $4.65

All kidding aside, it was a good lesson, even if I wasn’t at my best.

I arrived around 7:30 and organized myself. Tom, the Chief Flight Instructor and my instructor for the day, was running behind. He’s a busy guy, since he runs the place, and was constantly being interrupted to take care of little management fires which seemed to be popping up.

We finally sat down together for the oral quiz about 8:15 or so and he took me through the usual suspects: What paperwork do you have to have on you when you fly? Which documents must the airplane have on board? That sort of thing. Airspace. Maps and charts. Navigation.

I thought I did pretty well on those. I missed a few, which is to be expected, particularly since I had been away from flying for extended periods of time. During the course of the conversation, he provided me with tips to make things easier, and clarified some questions I had. This was time well spent. As such things always do, It helped me to reinforce the things I did know, and point out the weaknesses.

On our way out to the plane, we had a chance to chat. Tom did, indeed, start flying in 1956, though he told me it took him nine years to get his private pilot’s license. He is retired from one of the major airlines, but wasn’t a pilot. Somewhere along the way, he said something about it being easier when you’ve had “10,000 hours doing this.”

By the numbers: I have 14.


To say that I was intimidated would be accurate. To say that I performed poorly because of it would also be accurate.

To say that once we spent a little time in the air together, I found myself really liking him would also be accurate. He’s a funny guy with a strong laugh and a penchant for telling silly jokes. You know, like “mother-in-law” jokes. It was really somewhat endearing.

Anyway, he put me through all the moves, and praised me when I did right, and let me know when I screwed up. And, as I have said, I did that a lot. I got so nervous, I had a death grip on the yoke, which makes flying about….

By the numbers: Times harder it is to fly when you’re hanging on the yoke for dear life: 1,000

Anyway, after about an hour or so of my own frustration and three of the four landings, we headed back to Manassas. I shot the approach quite well, I thought, though his opinion was to fly by eye and ignore the existing runway visual aids for landing. I thought that was rather peculiar advice, given that I would think that any pilot would want any resource at his disposal. But his point about not always having them was well taken, after my experience in Ohio where there were none.

If you’re going to end, it’s best to end on a positive note. As I have always said, I’d rather be lucky than good, and this time I was lucky. I settled the plane in just as nicely as if I had been doing it every day. Tom said “Nice landing” more than once, so I think I got at least that right.

Once inside, we went back and went over the lesson and did the paperwork. Routine stuff.

The biggest lesson I learned from all this is that I talked myself into making this lesson way more difficult and nerve-racking that it needed to be. I was well prepared, academically speaking. I had reviewed the basic maneuvers in Ohio, so I wasn’t lacking in understanding. I just let my own performance anxiety keep me from being at my best. I talked myself into being intimidated by both the words “stage check” and by Tom when neither were warranted.

By the numbers: Balls present: an adequate pair.

I shoulda used ’em.

Stage Check 1 – Attempt 3

I have scheduled my Stage Check One AGAIN with the Chief Flight Instructor, Tom AGAIN and now I am all anxious AGAIN.

One mechanical cancellation and a weather cancellation prevented the previous attempts. Plus, the Blizzard of 2010 put the kibosh on much of my aviation activities for the last few weeks.

There will be significant academics in my newly adjusted weekend plans in preparation for this event.

Another Example of Small Town Philanthropy

Quite unexpectedly, I received an email from Tim, the flight instructor who supervised me on a lesson while I was in Ohio. He wrote “It was a pleasure to fly with you last weekend. You did a great job and will be an excellent pilot.”

This was a very welcome bit of encouragement.

On a related note, my nephew, Ben, is exploring joining the National Guard to become a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He has virtually zero exposure to the world of aviation, and I was hoping to let him backseat on my lesson last Saturday. Alas, the Cessna 150 has no back seat, so that was out.

So I did the next best thing.

Before I left Ohio, I bought him an hour of flight time with Dave, the guy who owns the operation out there. Ben can go at his convenience and have an hour’s worth of fun and/or terror behind the controls. I want to give him the aviation encouragement that I didn’t get as a kid, and that he’s unlikely to get from his dad. So I went over and let Dave swipe my credit card for $85 for an hour for the aircraft rental. (Fuel included.)

Here’s something which really surprised and impressed me. Dave’s not charging for his time as pilot to take Ben up, as he wants to encourage any young prospective aviator to participate in general aviation. That’s just amazing that anyone in this day and age would do anything for free like that.

Free. Kinda like encouragement.

Encouragement’s free. But its worth is far greater than can be measured in currency.

Terror in the Skies above Northwest Ohio! (Film at 11.)

For the last 20 years, I’ve lived in big cities, in particular, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Cities are interesting and exciting with arts, good restaurants, and crappy commutes aplenty. Los Angeles in particular offers quite a bit of insincerity when it comes to strangers, and Washington, DC has insincere strangers arrive every four years like clockwork. Both are towns in which intimate friends are few and far between. I lived in an apartment building with 37 units and probably knew only 2 of my neighbors. That’s typical for LA and DC.

I was born and raised in a town of about 15,000 people. My folks still live there — or technically here, since I am visiting my parents as this is written. It took one trip to the local airport here in search of a flight lesson to remind me of the best of small town hospitality.

When I left home for Ohio, I took my pilot bag and headphones along with my suitcase and headed up the Interstate. Since I was coming home for my uncle’s funeral, I had no clue what I would encounter upon arrival or how long I’d be staying. Upon arrival, I found things to be within about ten percent of normal. This would mean that much of my time would be divided with two major activities. One: Conversing with my mom and/or dad and Two: Watching one of them sleep in the easy chair while the other napped in the bedroom.

Sidebar: I think it’s so cool that people get to nap whenever they want to when they get older. I don’t know if anyone else believes this, but I really believe that if we all took naps during the day, the world would be far better off. Such naps including teddy bears would instantly guarantee world peace and an end to global climate change. Just sayin’…

Anyway, since I knew there was going to be significant inactive times, I decided yesterday that I’d make a quick dash to the local airport and see if they had a certified flight instructor and a plane I could rent. The airport is about 3 miles line of sight from my parents’ house, so it was a short trip.

When I arrived at the office at the airport, I was greeted enthusiastically by Max, a small canine of some sort. As he approached me, tail wagging, I knelt down to get in his airspace so that I could give him a pat and a scratch. As he got closer and closer, his tail wagging increased in frequency, and he bared his front teeth in a grimace that was at first, a little disturbing. But once I remembered that some dogs do this when they’re happy to see someone — kind of like a doggie smile — I was rewarded with a couple of wet doggie kisses and a new friend.

Max belongs to Laurie, the proprietress of this particular aviation establishment. I introduced myself and explained that I was as student pilot looking to take a lesson, since i hadn’t flown in about 5 weeks. She said “Well, I don’t know, but let’s go ask Dave.”

Dave, the proprietor and airport manager, is my age with a broad, infectious smile and a firm handshake. I explained my situation to him, and he was happy to oblige, though he didn’t have an instructor on staff. But he knew of one and we could probably make arrangements for either Saturday or Sunday. Pleased that I had hit pay dirt on my first inquiry, we proceeded to make conversation about this, that, and the other thing. I learned that his brother lives in the next town over from me in Virginia and is in the Coast Guard Reserve. A close friend of mine is a Coast Guard Reserve flag officer, and so we had much in common beyond aviation.

As it turns out, Laurie and I had much in common as well. She is also a student pilot, however, she’s further along in training than I am.

In any case, we kept talking for the better part of a half hour before Dave suggested that I call Tim, the CFI up in Toledo and see if he’s available.

Tim was available and made arrangements to call me later when he could get his schedule in order. More conversation ensued until I finally excused myself to go home and ready myself for my uncle’s service.

The next day, today, I arrived at the appointed place and time and found Dave. He was all smiles and gave me a warm welcome. The plane, he said, was out. Tim was out flying it around a bit because he hadn’t flown this particular aircraft in awhile and wanted some brush up. More conversation ensued, and Dave excused himself to leave to his regular job, and Tim came in from his test drive, er… flight.

I presented Tim with my admittedly weak aviation credentials and discussed what I wanted to accomplish with this lesson. And we went out to the aircraft.

The aircraft is a Cessna 150. Significantly smaller and outfitted with less bells and whistles than I was accustomed to on the Cessna 172 I usually fly. No matter. I just wanted to fly!

Tim was a fine instructor, taking me through the procedures for the local airspace. There were none compared to the rigamarole I have to go through to fly in the Washington, DC area. Radio procedures were practically non-existant.

With the engine running and being the only airplane in the universe, effectively, I took off and climbed to the west. As I climbed, I looked to to south and picked out my folks’ house and exclaimed “Hey! I can see my house from here!” This was the first time I could say that I could see my house as a pilot. (I don’t know why I find that important. Please just understand that I do and let’s move on, ‘k?)

Tim put me through the paces, and in an unfamiliar aircraft, I was a busy boy. Just like driving a new car, someone kept moving the damn controls! I kept reaching for the trim tab, and missing because in the 150, it’s a good six inches higher. I kept reaching for it in the wrong place all day. The throttle was REALLY loose and if I didn’t pay attention, it would slide out on it’s own. It would do so slowly, so I wouldn’t notice it until I was descending unexpectedly. There’s a little wheel on the throttle that locks it down, but I’ve never had to do that on the other planes I’ve flown. So that gave me fits.

Oh, and no intercom or headsets. Nope. You just had to raise your voice to communicate and turn the radio up all the way to hear. That was a little weird. No, that was a LOT weird. Without headsets, you have to use a wired hand microphone with a push to talk button on it. Again, something different to think about.

We did some basic flight maneuvers, mostly slow flight and power on stalls. The power on stall surprised me and scared me to half to death.

The way we’ve practiced stalls at school in Virginia was to take the airplane to the point at which the stall horn sounds indicating that the airplane is getting very close to being unable to fly. I’ve been instructed to just nose it over while the horn was sounding until it stopped. Easy. No problemo.

So I kept pulling until the stall horn sounded and Tim kept instructing me to pull back more until it actually stalled. “Stalled” = “Stops Flying.” When it did, the Cessna nosed over instantly, much to my surprise, and suddenly it occurred to me that I was flying toward the ground.

Yep. First time I ever looked straight ahead at the ground from a cockpit in which I was allegedly in control.

Since it surprised me so much, I was late to compensate and we stared picking up speed as gravity decided that it was no longer on Dan’s flight team. Tim was unfazed. He told me how to recover correctly, and we went on from there. I explained that this was the first time this ever happened, and I wasn’t prepared for it. So we practiced a few more until I got the hang of it.

Then we did a few other maneuvers. He said “Let’s do some steep turns.” So I did.

I like steep turns. And I am good at them.

I did one, and then another. Then in the middle of the third, he said “Since you’re keeping it so smooth, keep going all the way around!” so I wound up doing a 360. It’s really fun when something goes right, and this was one of those times.

Then it was time to go back and land. Tim guided me back to the airport and coached me as I got ready to land.

Oddly enough, this was a piece of cake.

I made all the turns and approached at the right speed and descended at the right rate and landed smoothly, actually hearing the wheels chirp as they made contact with the ground.




(For me, of course.)

We did another take off and landing, and I did another textbook approach. And while my landing wasn’t as smooth, it improved on a couple of aspects, so it was valuable. Landing usually is, as opposed to the alternative.

Tim was very complimentary about my training, implying that I was doing very well and that the flight school in Virginia was top notch.

We refueled the airplane and went inside to do the paperwork and pay and pee. When all that was done, still more conversation ensued. Tim mentioned a few times that I should call him when I get back to town so we could go flying again. Once would have been an excusable insincerity. Like “Call me sometime!” when your’e on a date. Or “Let’s do lunch.” But he mentioned it again, and then again, so I was pretty sure he meant it. And I’m glad. I enjoyed his company as well as his lesson. He’s good people.

I have been led to believe, through various real-world examples, that people generally suck. The news shows us all the rotten things that people can do to one another. And who among us hasn’t had a heart badly broken, been bullied or been the target of a mean son of a bitch?

Point is, all of us have been the target of a schmuck on occasion. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

Except for this experience.

Aside from the fact that aviators tend to be pretty cool people, I met Tim, Dave, Laurie, Another Dave and of course, Max. And without exception I was greeted with genuineness and sincerity. When they smiled, looked me in the eye and said “Hey, Dan! Good to see you!” they meant it. Not like the routine exchange of insincerities which are the norm in big cities.

I had to drive for eight hours and fly out of a little teeny weeny airport in the teeny little town in which I first took breath to be reminded that people DON’T suck. The Midwestern ethic, Midwestern sensibility and common courtesy are alive and well in places like this.

Places like Fostoria, Ohio.

Places like my home.

Unexpected Opportunity!

As a couple of you know, I am in Ohio at the moment visiting my parents. Since I am going to have a significant amount of down time, and since I haven’t flown in 5 weeks, I took a chance and went to the tiny little airport here and looked around. I found some very friendly folks who were happy to help arrange a lesson for tomorrow morning!

So now, I get to fly out of my REAL hometown airport, in a different aircraft with a totally different environment. 🙂

THIS is exciting!