Congratulations, you have finally done it. You passed your check ride and now you are able to fly by yourself wherever you want and with whomever you want. As my flight instructor put it after congratulating me on passing, “Now you won’t have to lug 180 pounds of dead weight around anymore; you’re free.” Although I disagree with him saying that he is just “dead weight,” he did say something in that statement that I did agree with: I was free… Free to fill up the right seat with whomever I want.
So who did I choose to be my first victim, ahem, I mean passenger? My primary choice was to take my dad because he was the one who inspired me to become a pilot, but the small Cessna 150 isn’t able to handle the collective weight of both of us (I assume the weight of our brains was what sent the weight and balance out of limits.) Once I realized that he wasn’t an option, I wanted to take my mom. Unfortunately, she was too nervous to ride along with a newly-minted pilot who has barely spent any time at all in the air. She never admitted she was nervous, but I know she was. She eventually decided to fly with Grant Airlines once she saw that I flew a safe maiden voyage with her dad, my grandpa.
My grandpa has always been supportive of my aspirations, including the journey of me working towards my pilot’s license. He was ecstatic to be the first one to test out how my landings feel. Ever since he first heard that I wanted to fly, he was excited because his father, my great-grandfather, was a World War II aviator who flew DC-3s over The Hump and trained in P-51s.
My grandpa and I showed up to the airport and I could tell that he was anxious for me to fly him around and hopefully for me to teach him a little about how it is done. After showing him through the walk-through, I talked with him for a minute about the plan for the next hour. Pretty soon we agreed that “There is no time like the present,” so I fired up the engine and taxied the plane away from the hangar. We were both prepared to start a flight that we knew was going to be a memorable one. I was ready to go after my run-up so I called the tower as I sat on the threshold to runway 13. “Winds ## at ###, Runway 13, cleared for takeoff,” the tower said back to me as I rolled onto the runway and centered myself on the numbers and stared down the mile of black asphalt.
“Ready?” I inquired aloud. He nodded his head with a yes and didn’t speak, which I thought was odd because he always likes to talk. Later I found out that he was just trying to be a respectful passenger and was trying not to distract me from the task at hand, keeping us from becoming another NTSB statistic.
Fast-forward 15 minutes to where we are just flying around north of the airport in the practice area and I am just showing him some of the wild maneuvers that the C-150 can do (mild sarcasm). After a few of these maneuvers, my grandpa said his first words of the flight which were, “Eh, I’ll just let you do it” when I asked if he wanted to take the stick and fly a little. He soon chased those words with a while later, was “Your great-grandpa is with us.”
I thought about what he said for a few moments and was kind of taken aback by the randomness of the statement. But I soon agreed, my great-grandpa was there, in spirit. He was between us, around us. Three generations were in the small Cessna cockpit that day. It doesn’t really matter if you believe in spirits or whether they are “with you,” but it was odd to think about how my great-grandpa’s time as a pilot was similar and drastically different from that of mine. I learned to fly at a flying club with the expectation of leisurely flying in the future; my great-grandpa learned to fly in the Army Air Corps with the expectation of being deployed. We have both had our share of close calls, although his surely put a little more hair on his chest than my “close” calls did. Having the enemy trying to shoot you down while you’re flying over the unforgiveable terrain of the Himalayas will do that to you.
His first passengers were likely his flight crew on his first mission. I don’t know what you think, but I think it is a little less stressful to fly just your one passenger in familiar territory than to be halfway across the world having people trying to shoot you down while you’re trying to focus on a mission.
After a few more minutes of putting around, I decided my grandpa probably had soaked in enough for one day so I headed the airplane back the way we came. The landing was uneventful (which in aviation typically means good). As I was taxiing back, my grandpa starting talking like he usually does and began congratulating me. (One, for becoming a pilot and two, for not crashing the plane). He also was talking about how happy he was that I didn’t fly like his dad did. Apparently he (my great-grandpa) flew like a madman and his flight crews occasionally asked to be switched to be with other pilots because they thought that he was going to get them killed. Fortunately he lived, otherwise I would not be here today.
The flight taking your first passenger is said to be one of your most memorable (in a good way) and that was true for my first experience. It was a great experience for me and my grandfather together and I will never forget him saying, “Your great-grandpa is with us.” I now realize that I will never, or have ever in the past, fly alone. My great-grandpa will always be there in spirit.
Once you pass your check ride you are “free.” Free to fill the right seat however you like. If you have passed the check ride and have a license instead of a pink piece of paper, I am sure that you remember the flight where you took your first passenger. If you haven’t gotten to that point yet, be sure to think hard about whom to choose to fill up that right seat. It is a great experience and it will be with anyone you choose. My third pick for a passenger was probably the best pick I could have chosen. And the one I didn’t pick will always be flying along with me, my co-pilot.