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.

Stage Three Written Exam or "You Can Lead a Boy to Flight School, but You Can’t Make Him Think. – Anon."

I think I mentioned Jim, my classmate, at the start of this. Jim and I have much in common. Jim is a computer geek. So am I. Jim drives a hybrid. So do I. And, of course, Jim has a similar budding interest in aviation.

Jim and I have always worked together on some of the more tough classroom problems, often sharing little tips we’ve learned from our flight instructors and comparing answers, which is encouraged. We find ourselves asking each other questions and providing answers when one of us is stuck.

When it comes to study habits, however, we differ drastically. I’ve recounted my lack of discipline when it comes to all things academic, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that Jim is the polar opposite. He always comes to class prepared with questions, and engages in discussion with the instructor, Brad, regularly.

As we did for the two previous written tests, just before we scored them, we compared answers. That consisted of casually comparing the dots on his mark sense form to the dots on mine. Usually, they were damned near exact. Tonight, however, my dots were in different places.

Lots of different places.

Most of the first column of 25 questions were identical. I think there was perhaps one different. But the second column looked substantially different. I started counting where my dots were different and got discouraged and stopped after I counted three. Since Jim is such a genuinely outstanding student and more likely to provide the correct answer, I was really sweating my final results of the exam.

Upon viewing our papers together, we began whispering back and forth to each other things like “This was a hard test!” or “I struggled with a few of the (fill in the blank) questions,” achieving unanimous consensus that this test was NOT a cake walk.

At 7pm sharp, Brad started the class and we finished the chapter on weather graphics that we’d skipped over some weeks back. But of course, the time eventually came for us to score our tests.

It works like this: Brad has the answer sheet and reads out the question and its associated answer. If we get it wrong, we’re to mark it as incorrect on the mark sense form and fill in the correct answer. That way, we can go back and resolve the particular problem. The final percentage gets recorded on the top of the form and that grade is transferred to the official record. (“This is going to go on you permanent record, young man!”) So Brad starts:

“Number one is B.”

“Number two is C.”

… and so on and so forth.

Et ceterahhh, et ceterahhh, et ceterahhh.

I started to sweat as I reach the tenth dot. “OK,” I thought to myself, “at least I got the first ten right.”

Brad continued revealing the answers to the test like a seasoned game show host, one by one, through the teens and on to the twenties. I hold my breath with each pronouncement of the correct answer, waiting for a discrepancy in Brad’s answer and mine.

“Twenty one is A.”

“Twenty two is C.”

(I should note to anyone using the Jeppesen course materials that these answers are NOT the real answers to the Stage III Written Exam. Just so you know.)

“Twenty three is C.”

“Twenty four is A.”

Holy crap! I’ve gotten to 24 and I still haven’t let the red pen touch paper.

“Twenty five is A.”

Amazing! I didn’t think I had done all that well, but here I am with half the answers and all of them are correct! Yeah, that second column has got to suck big time.

You may remember that this was a take-home, open book test. I did it last night spreading out on the king-sized bed about 7:30 last night figuring it would go fairly quickly.

Not so fast, Kemosabe!

Some of these questions were particularly tedious, requiring actual problem solving skills and the use of complex and unfamiliar navigation instruments. I worked on one problem for about 40 minutes before I gave up and moved on. This was a poor exhibition of my rusty test taking skills, and I won’t make that mistake on the real written exam. By about midnight, I had actually answered all the questions to the best of my ability. But as I reviewed the answers one last time, I realized that for many of the more complex questions, I couldn’t easily recreate the process. So I went back and did the more complex ones again, showing my work in my notebook so that I’d be able to review my logic. I finally hit the sack about 1:15 am and was up for work at 7.

Today, I reviewed the questions during my lunch hour, foregoing the usual daily lunch with the boss. So I genuinely put quite a bit of time into the test, confirming my suspicion that I was WAY under prepared.

Back to question 26.

Brad called the rest of the second column from 26 to 50. (Actually, it was more like calling Bingo than a game show host.) I wound up marking just three questions I had answered incorrectly, all of them in just one subject area. (Radio navigation, if you must know.) Doing the arithmetic, i discovered much to my surprise and delight that I scored a whopping 94%. Whodathunkit? For a guy with crappy study habits, I did OK.

The next big step is the FAA written exam. It’s a computer-based, multiple-guess test not unlike the written tests in ground school. They offer the student a random sample of 60 questions from the question bank of 900 questions, all of which are listed in one of my textbooks. So now the task is to go though all 900 questions over the next week or so, answer and understand the answer for each and every one of the 900. Most of the questions are just ones you have to know. So there will be a lot of rote memorization over the next couple of weeks.

Jim did well, too, though I haven’t a clue what his score was. And really it doesn’t matter, because I still think he has a fluency with the material that I have yet to achieve. Regardless, I’ve been delighted to have Jim’s acquaintance these last eight weeks. He’s not only been a good classmate, but a good friend as well.

Jim solos on Saturday. I hope I am not too far behind.

Flight Lesson #4 Canceled Again or "Fly the Friendly Skies of Manassas"

I talk to myself in the car. Actually, to be more precise I talk WITH myself in the car. They say it’s OK to talk TO yourself, but if you start answering yourself, then well, that’s something different entirely.

Those who know me even casually know that this is completely consistent with my everyday behavior. And while I’ve never been hospitalized for any sort of mental illness, nor has that been recommended, I think it’s safe to say that yeah, I know I’m a friggin’ head case.

Mostly, I talk to the radio. If it’s talk radio, I scream back or agree wholeheartedly. In either case, I’m pretty loud.

One evening some years ago, I was late to my 3-11 pm job at E! Entertainment Television. I pulled into the parking lot – or tried to, and was met with a single car whose driver had pulled up to the gated lot and parked in order to use the ATM machine in our building. Parked. In front of the gate. Not on the street, but pulled up to where you wave your badge at the little box and up goes the gate and you get in.

Needless to say, the driver had no badge, except for the ATM card, which had absolutely no effect whatsoever on the gate.

I was really late, and a little bit frazzled, and I started yelling at the top of my lungs, shouting obscenities and calling into question among other things, the size of her ass and her parentage.

Yes, I had the windows up all the way.

No I didn’t think she’d be able to hear me.

Yes, she did.

When she acknowledged that fact that I was referring to her, I got the one-fingered salute and a few choice words from her. I was overcome by my embarrassment and the overwhelming urge to rear end her car through the gate and proceed to work.

So you can see from this little bit of ancient history that I talk in the car under various circumstances and for various reasons.

Today was one of those days.

I have related before the apprehension with which I have approached the flight lessons I have had to date. But today, all the way home about every third of fourth mile from the airport to my home, I kept shouting to myself “That was fucking AWESOME!”

This was my fifth time up in the air, and the second time that I was unable to proceed to the practice area because of bad weather. Last week, I had to settle for doing take offs and landings around Manassas Airport in what I can describe accurately as one helluva lot of wind. Unlike the last time up, though, today’s winds were calm.

This instructor, Chris, was new to me. Chris is a young instructor pilot who appears at first glance to be too tall for such a small airplane. He had called me when I was on my way to the airport to tell me the practice area was closed, and when I arrived, he filled me in.

I asked if the local weather would permit me to do take offs and landings around the airport as I had the last time I was up, and he agreed, essentially saying that if I wanted to spend the money on a non-lesson, he was happy to show me around the immediate skies around Manassas Airport.

I won’t belabor the point, but the last time I went up in that awfully windy weather, it was a less than positive experience. Apart from the normal overload that is student flying, I felt completely uneasy with even being up there. So by the time I got on the ground, I was pooped, frustrated, and frankly, quite discouraged.

This time was completely different.

All the flight instructors are different. Each has his own style of instruction and his own items he checks. Chris’s style and checklist made sense to me. (Not that the others didn’t, but I believe that he teaches more like I learn.) So it was far more positive, far more productive and virtually terror free.

We did four take offs and landings. On the third landing, I said to Chris “I’m having some trouble here. Would you demonstrate what a landing is SUPPOSED to look like?” He agreed and then landed the plane as if he’s set it down on a 3,400 foot long pillow top bed. Nice and soft.

Next time around, I had the right idea, but didn’t do a whole lot better than I had done before. But at least now, I had an idea of what a good landing was supposed to look like and feel like. That was very helpful.

When we finished the lesson, we went over the lesson and he asked me questions from the academic side of my training, and I knew more of these than I had before, so I didn’t feel quite as uninformed as I had the last couple of times.

Chris was very accommodating and encouraging, and I genuinely enjoyed this lesson far greater the others I have endured. Perhaps I am just getting less inept. Perhaps today’s lesson was just the right lesson at the right time. Regardless, today was fantastic. It’s the first time I can genuinely say that I had fun flying and wanted to go again. Kind of like the roller coaster when the ride ends and you run around to the line again because you just HAVE to go again. Yeah, it was like that.

So today’s lesson summary follows: “That was fun!”

No. Not exactly right.

“It was awesome!”

Flight Lesson #4 Canceled or "It’s too damned early. Insert your own clever title here."

Prologue, 16 October:

I have reservations for both Saturday and Sunday for lessons 4 and 5 respectively, however, it looks as though the weather is likely going to prevent me from flying. I will have to be satisfied with “flying” Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It’s pretty cool now that there’s “real” controls attached to the computer. This means I don’t have to fly with a keyboard and mouse or joystick. And my base airport is in the database, so I can simulate take off and landing from the very airport from which I will be testing. And from initial toying with the software, it’s prett damned accurate.

So much so that our flight instructors recommend it. P.S. My headset arrived the other day. Woo Hoo!

17 October:

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday.
The regular dogs sleeping in.
There’s a phone call ringing next to me…

DAMMIT! Who the hell is calling me at this hour? I was supposed to be sleeping in today!

It IS Saturday, and the weather is crap. That’s why Tom, the owner of the fixed base operator at which I am taking flight training, is calling. My lesson for today is cancelled due to weather. Probably tomorrow too.

I was expecting his call. I have been practicing.

I checked out AviationWeather.gov last night and discovered that we were going to be socked in until at least the start of my lesson. The aviation specific forecast, called a SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information) told me this. So I knew ahed of time to expect a call from the school telling me to stay home today. I told Tom that I was expecting his call because of the SIGMET, and he basically chided me for not calling him earlier, because they expect the students to be proactive about weather. Well, I WAS. I just didn’t call in because:

1.) At the beginning of class, Tom told all the students that they’d notify us of cancellations due to weather, and

2.) I was sound asleep and my lesson wasn’t until 1 pm.

Most importantly, though, I learned how to read and evaluate weather forecasts well enough in ground school to predict the cancellation. Granted, the weather is REALLY crappy, so it was a no brainer, but still I was tickled that I was able to read the weather products and glean the correct answer.

Score one for the student!

(Apologies to Billy Joel.)

Flight Lesson 3 and Nearly 4 or "Brother, Can You Spare a Dramamine?"

11 & 12 October:

I booked an aircraft for 3:00 pm yesterday requesting the instructor with whom I did my first lesson. He is a former Air Force pilot with gajillions of hours experience. I learned yesterday that he took 13 YEARS off — yes, years — and hadn’t flown until just a few years back when he decided to become a certified flight instructor. That’s a long time! His history in this regard made me feel less worried about having laid off flying for a few weeks.

He could afford to. I, however, could not!

I filed my flight plan all by my lonesome, after which we did a short pre-flight lesson, and off we went. We practiced all measure of stalls, turns, take offs and landings. Some of it went very well, but when we did the stalls, I was reminded quite rudely why I don’t do roller coasters.

Stalls are a routine thing. It sounds pretty intimidating when you tell someone that your’e going out to practice a maneuver where you’re going to put the airplane in such a position that it will no longer fly. But the whole point is that you’re going to learn how to recover from it, should it happen whilst in flight.

It involves climbing rapidly and steeply, eventually exceeding the angle at which the wings work. At this point, the airflow over the wing becomes too weak and the wing stops lifting or “stalls.” There’s another version of the stall exercise where you are flying REALLY slowly as if landing, and the wing stalls and you have to apply power quickly to avoid falling like the proverbial rock. Both involve, to one degree or another, a ride that makes weak stomachs like mine decide to do little loop-de-loops of their own.

Yes, I’ve been known to get motion sick. Not violently, as in filling one of those little air sickness bags you get on the airliners. Never have done that, though I was once sitting next to someone who did. Most unpleasant. I just get REALLY queasy. And that’s where this wound up. He demonstrated all the stalls, took me through them together, then on my own. By the time I had done a few of each, I finally had to tell him to take us straight and level for a few minutes so I could recover. He was kind enough to do so, and off we went to the training airfield near Warrenton, VA.

We did four take offs and landings into Warrenton’s airfield, a small uncontrolled airfield about 8 or ten miles (I think!) from Manassas, my home airport. (Gee, kinda cool. I have a home airport now! Whodathunk it?) Finally calmed down from the motion sickness, I did a couple of the take offs myself, the last one being far better than I expected I would be able to do. Landings are still a little intimidating, but they DO come in pairs, these take offs and landings. One without the other is.. well, messy.

Overall, I was pleased with the lesson yesterday, but learned VERY quickly that this is a perishable skill. Not flying for three weeks was probably the WORST possible thing I could have done to myself as far as flight training goes. I expected to experience a setback, but I was really quite surprised at how much set back I was. This will not happen again voluntarily.

I also booked a lesson for this afternoon with Brad, my ground school instructor. I like Brad. He’s smart, likes a good joke, and has the same morbid fascination with fatal air disasters that I do.

Sidebar: I have these dreams. Not recurring, per se, because the circumstances are always different. But they are always very vivid, and always very exciting. In the dream, I witness an air crash. Usually the big planes. I don’t see the devastation up close, but I see the aircraft either strike the ground from a distance, or disappear behind an obstacle and see the fireball. The last thing I usually remember is seeing it, uttering the obligatory “Oh my god!” or some such expression and running toward the accident.

Brad experiences something similar.

Sidebar within a sidebar: I saw a stage play once entitled “CVR.” It was an on-stage recreation of air disasters as if you were standing in the cockpit with the pilots. The “script” is taken from the actual cockpit voice recordings (hence, “CVR”) and the events are performed in real time. It’s a little creepy, but I recommend it.

Anyway, I did the preflight checks while Brad was with his previous student. I then went in for my lesson before take off and we spent a good 20 minutes going over the lesson for the day and some previous material from ground school I should have remembered but didn’t. Then, out to the plane.

I reviewed the preflight checklist with Brad, and we hopped in. I did the engine start up checklist and turned the key. (Airplanes have keys, believe it or not. I had no idea!) So far, I was doing admirably. It was a good thing to be feeling more confident about the training I had received. Brad said “Ok, do your brake check and hold.” So I edged the throttle forward until the wheels started to move and then tapped the toe breaks and stopped the plane quite adeptly. Next, Brad said to make the call to Manassas ground control so we could get going.

I depressed the radio’s transmit button and said confidently “Manassas Ground, Cessna 8191-Echo at the West Ramp with Bravo. Taxi VFR Southwest.” Perfect. Just like it should have been. The ground controller responded with the appropriate information which I dutifully copied down on my clipboard holding the pre-printed form I designed just for that purpose. Yeah, this was working fine. Brad was even impressed.

Just then, one of the other flight instructors, Fayek, who had taught our ground school the first week, grabbed Brad’s attention and pointed out that the nose wheel tire was a little under inflated. After a hand-signal conference, Fayek finally convinced Brad to shut down the engine and have a look. Upon quick inspection beforehand, neither Brad nor I saw the problem. But Fayek had seen the airplane with the propeller spinning which pulls the nose of the Cessna 172 down, essentially squishing the tire and revealing the lack of adequate pressure in the tire.


I was doing so well, too.

Unfortunately, Brad had another student immediately following the time I had reserved, so there was not enough time to fix whatever was wrong with the tire AND get in a lesson. So we decided to postpone the lesson until later in the week.

I was genuinely disappointed. I was looking forward to flying with Brad, because from my perspective, he and I think a lot alike, and have very similar teaching styles. (Yes, I used to teach high school and college many moons ago.) So I will have to reschedule this lesson.

But the day was by NO means wasted. I gained a great deal of confidence with pre-flight procedures. During the before take off review with Brad, I got a chance to learn that it was unwise to do a brain dump of the ground school subjects, because they WILL be asked of you later by the FAA examiner. I learned that having more eyes on a situation lessens your chance of a problem or a disaster, so it’s good that someone else was looking at that front tire. (Though this is not really a new lesson. I am always happy to have passengers in the car with me warn me of impending calamities. I will NEVER be angry at anyone for being a “back seat” driver in a car I’m driving. Seems as though this is sound advice for the aviation world as well.)

After all, it’s one thing to dream about an air disaster. It’s another thing entirely to actually BE in one.

Work From Home Friday #1 or "Your Clue Phone is Off The Hook"

Prologue – 8 October:

I’ve been at a trade show all week on the exhibit floor, and haven’t had much time to do anything else. But I DID complete the second written exam. Just like the other one: take home, open book. I forgot all about it and rushed home from work and knocked it out in about an hour or so.

Out of 25 questions, I missed 3 for a grand total of 88%. All of the errors were “RTFP” errors, in that I would have gotten the right answer had a read the effin’ problem correctly.

That’s what I get for rushing through it.

9 October:

I think I may have a clue.

No, not the kind of clue that makes navigating the big mine field of life a breeze, but a teeny-tiny, little clue. It’s about why I still feel a little apprehensive about hopping in the plane and getting back up in the air.

To be fair to myself, and I am often not, I have been busy. I’ve had some events that were on the calendar way before I started training, and this week, I spent four days at a hyuuuuuge conference which took a lot of extra time and energy. So it’s fair to say that it’s OK that I haven’t flown in a couple of weeks.

Today was a “work at home” day, which because of the extra hours I put in these last couple of weeks, translates to a “be available” day. I was. Available, that is. I spent part of the morning up in town having my photo taken for a security badge. (The commute took longer than getting the badge.) So I’ve definitely done my part for God and country and I feel no guilt with having spent about an hour or so out at the airport this afternoon.

Last night was ground school class 10. We were learning how to compute weight and balance for our particular aircraft. Most of it was pretty straightforward, but at one point, there was a whole gaggle of numbers on the white board (remember when they were “black boards?” That’s not racist, is it? Just checkin’.) representing various qualities required in the computation.

I was a math major for awhile. Something like four years. Numbers don’t intimidate me. Much. I flunked out over abstract stuff — Abstract Algebra to be precise. Anyway, I was completely following the discussion and the notations on the blackboard, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see it. All I saw were trees, not the forest. I fully grokked the idea of interpolation and extrapolation and approximations and mathematical significance which my classmate Jim and I discussed sotto voce during the lecture. But I’ll be damned if I could divine the MEANING of the numbers and SEE their interrelation. The big picture escaped me completely.

It got me to thinking, what IS it that bugs me? Why is it that understanding but not Understanding (with a capital “U”, if you know what I mean) bugs the shit out of me. Why is it so frustrating? Why is it so disconcerting? Why does it frighten me?

Armed with this observation from class last night and its associated question, I wondered why it felt so similar to the frustration I’ve been having with the flight lessons. I can’t seem to see the forest for the trees there, either. Then it hit me:

You’re a STUDENT, you idiot — you’re not SUPPOSED to see the forest just yet!

Seems as though I put the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse. I damned the torpedoes. I failed to remember the Alamo. But mostly, I was being far too hard on myself for not understanding that I wasn’t understanding what I shouldn’t have been understanding in the first place.


It’s ok. I know what I meant, and really that’s what’s important.

Back to today. I spent some time out at the airport purchasing yet another damn reference manual and spending yet another damn $45.00. So I took an hour or so just watching planes take off and land and listening to the communications among the aircraft and the tower, just one source of angst among many. And I just watched and listened. Watched and listened. I allowed the bigger picture of take off, landing and tower comms just wash over me. No effort. No puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler was sore. Then I thought of something I hadn’t before:

Relax. Let my brain do it’s job. It’ll inform me just as soon as it has all the puzzle pieces necessary for me to identify the picture. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, the picture takes shape long before the puzzle’s complete. But it takes more than just a few pieces.

And I’ll find all I need. One at a time. The instructors have them all and want ME to have them as well.

I just need to be patient and allow myself to relish in the joy of learning.

I’ve always believed that the epitome of human experience is not wealth, fame, sex or power. For all their obvious charm, these things are genuinely fleeting. I believe the singularly most amazing experience is that flash when the light finally dawns. That very moment when understanding actually occurs. When you answer your very own clue phone. There’s absolutely no feeling quite like having all of those little neurons lining up to produce understanding. And none better. It can’t be forced, but it WILL happen all in due course.

I can’t deny myself that feeling by putting up artificial obstacles. I absolutely must place myself in the proper situation to allow it to happen just as it should happen.

I just need to get the hell out of my way.

Flight Lesson #3 Canceled or "You Are Now Cleared for Final Approach-Avoidance."

Has it really come to this? Have the events of these last years shaken my confidence so deeply? Or have I always been paralyzed by the possibility of failure?

It’s easy to ignore in everyday life. You get into a routine and establish a sort of procedural equilibrium that keeps you on track and is moderately self-correcting. Kind of like a gyroscope that resists change to its spin around the three axes. If you stay out too late, yeah, you suffer for a day or two, but your mind and body recover quickly and you get back in the routine in relatively short order. Other things take a little longer, but only a little. Like vacations. Go away for two weeks and see how much longer it takes to get back in the swing of things. Usually you’re at about ninety percent by the time the jet lag wears off. That’s not so tough to handle.

So why did I spend all week trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

I know at least some of it had to do with the fact that I hadn’t done my part by putting in the additional study time to approach it confidently. But hell, I can memorize radio frequencies and learn radio communications “scripts.” Hell, I used to memorize whole three-act plays without an enormous about of trouble, so I know it’s not an uphill battle to shoehorn the necessary information into my head.

So why did I spend all week trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

Get this: I took the dogs out this morning for their respective excretory reductions in mass and liquid, and looking up at the cloudy, grey sky, half of me thought “Oh, thank GOD the weather’s lousy! I won’t have to fly.”

HAVE to fly?

I’m supposed to be WANTING to fly. In fact, I am paying a shit load of money to BE ABLE to fly.

So why did I spend all day trying to find excuses to cancel my flight lesson today?

Once I finally got out of bed around nine-ish, I looked outside. Perfect day. And we’d just had our ground school classes on weather, so I was pretty confident that a cloudless, blue sky and calm winds would not prohibit me from going off into the wild blue yonder. “Ok, I can do this,” I think to myself. “Let me run some errands and I’ll still have oodles of time to get my act together.”

So I got to Target and buy a book bag for all my aviation references for class. I stop by and check on the RV, and then call the Toyota dealership and see if they can fit me in for my 85,000 mile service. They are kind enough to do so, and I head over. “OK, there’s still time. If I get out of there in short order, I’ll still be able to make it.”

After about 45 minutes, Eddie, the service writer I’ve known for awhile comes in and tells me that their nineteen point inspection showed that I needed a new water pump, and serpentine belt.

“How long will this take?” I ask mind rushing through rough calculations of time and distance. Can I get all this done and still make the lesson at 4?

Eddie assures me that it won’t take too long and if it’s going to take longer than normal, he’ll let me know so I can cancel.

So why did I decide to use the water pump replacement as my excuse to cancel my flight lesson today?

I had the time. I had the skill to do the lesson. I was soon to have the now fully functional Prius chomping at the bit to demonstrate its new-found health by whisking me to Manassas Airport by 4pm.

Why was I so relieved when I called and canceled?

This is perplexing from the perspective of logic. There was no good reason NOT to go, and I made it a point to stretch an “emergency” auto repair into a good enough reason to avoid flying.

Needless to say, I am neither pleased with my decision nor myself. This is unacceptable behavior. I knew this all along. Yet, a part of my brain decided that for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen.

Check that. Reason and my brain played no roles in this decision.

OK, time for take two.

This will not happen again. I will not allow myself to avoid flying again. I will not permit whatever insecurities, fear of failure, fear of success, or chicken-shit cloud forms around my head to impede my better judgment. I KNOW better. I cannot allow myself the luxury of another such failure.

I didn’t used to be like this. Challenging tasks didn’t paralyze me. They were exhilarating. I never avoided things because they were hard or frightening. I’ve jumped out of jet aircraft, for crying out loud!

What the fuck happened?

Here I stand, looking around and wondering what happened.

It’s up to me to keep this one little failure from becoming an epic one.