If you want to be a pilot, you better believe!

I called Glen, the guy from childhood whom I rarely talked to anymore, maybe twice in the last ten years, and asked him if he had a recommendation for a flight instructor. Earlier I had walked into the closest airport that I thought might have someone who would be able to teach me to “drive” an airplane and when I got back in my ground transportation (as I was later to learn a pickup truck or car is called), I was puzzled and a little miffed.

Learn to Fly Here sign
The sign says it, but do the flight school employees mean it?

Really, it was a bit intimidating standing at the counter being ignored, then finally talked down to about the arduous and expensive ordeal I was there to inquire about. Well. Your loss people. I’m going to learn to fly without your help. Glen told me about a guy, highly recommended, at another airport a bit farther out. Jeff and I worked together for a few months and he got my skills to where I was going solo to the practice area, then winter and work got between us and the whole thing was off until the following spring.

I had big plans to do the ground school/book learning end of things over the winter – alas plans that never came to fruition. Seems those wonderful VHS tapes and accompanying work books had a better knack for putting me to sleep than putting me in possession of required aviation knowledge. FARs, aircraft systems, weather, charts, graphs, yada yada… the only thing I set out to know was how to “drive” an airplane.

Everything changed the following year. I got reacquainted, at church, with a dormant pilot friend from high school who recommended that I call Jeannie. He said he had gotten really great instruction with her, at a third airport. So I did, call Jeannie that is, and well you see I always believed that I would one day be a pilot.

Something from childhood, growing up on a farm, operating all kinds of equipment, living across the way from a mysterious neighbor who had a little yellow airplane and hayfield grass strip. In our phone conversation, Jennie and I agreed to meet two to three times a week. On good weather days we would fly the airplane and on bad weather days we would ensconce ourselves in a small study room with desk, two chairs and whiteboard, and keep at this pilot training until completion and there was a fresh certificate in hand.

As it turned out, ground school was suddenly doable; Jeannie had my type of strong, positive attitude, kind demeanor, tremendous work ethic and an uncanny ability to juggle marriage, motherhood and instructing in the air and in the “classroom,” really more of a big closet. I decided at some point to tear up the studies, apply myself to ALL things aviation, then I would become an airplane “driver,” a pilot!

After Jeannie gave one too many of those I’m-so-sorry-and-disappointed looks, we decided to talk to the owner of the flight school about me, the student, purchasing a Cessna 152, leasing it back to the flight school and in that way upping our chances at getting an airplane in the schedule when we needed it.

Yes, sir, Ralph explained all the pitfalls of this arrangement and then I became a proud owner of a white with blue striped high-wing two-seat little bird. I even paid for a new propeller at a soon-to-follow 100-hour inspection, something to do with the hub.

This third airport was great! We had a control tower, called ground control prior to taxi and generally worked diligently every time out on overcoming little country boy mic fright!

At the time, catalogues were in vogue. Glossy pictures and fancy language described in great detail the noticeable difference their wares would make in any pilot’s experience, student or otherwise. One day I was humorously scolded by Jeannie when sheepishly I carried my books, flight computer whiz wheel, pencils, charts, flashlight, multi-tool and all necessary accoutrements of the earnest budding pilot into the “big closet” for a lesson, with a brand new catalogue flight bag. Why didn’t I think of that simple backpack Jeannie showed she carried? I would have saved a huge sum! Live and learn. Incidentally, all these years later, I still use that bag when flying small GA for pleasure. I guess the considerable amount of time spent leafing through those glossy pages paid off.

Student with CFI
A successful flight training experience usually means a successful student-CFI relationship.

Sitting in the sunny run up area, engine purring, adjacent to runway 08, I was so anxious it was really hard to focus. I briefly wondered if this time Jeannie had any idea what she was doing. She already assured me moments earlier I was ready for this; however, something had to change here! Then and there Divine Providence answered my meager call and pronto – incredibly, the situation changed to one of calculated confidence. I got this. I believe it. My first solo cross county flight into and out of a class C airport, flying with the big boys, was now on.

Tower cleared me for takeoff, I swung the eager Cessna onto the enormous runway, pushed the throttle in and soon enough we were flying, wheels singing to the wings “your turn,” as lift took its upward effect.

Oh how I concentrated as the flight progressed, identifying those check points, talking to flight following, receiving timely handoffs from one sector to the next and being the best student pilot I could be. Then at the appropriate time, I dialed in, as instructed by approach control, the correct four digits in the correct sequence, hit ident in the transponder and eventually found myself in the traffic pattern with regional jets!

Now after landing, acquiring and committing to exact verbiage by ground control and parking I finally cut off the fuel to the small fry engine and took a long minute for a deep breath. After timidly asking the attendant at the counter in the busy FBO to sign and date my log book I hustle back out to the airplane and reverse the whole fantastic exercise.

Yes, I am overly nervous, intimidated, excited, exuberant, animated and feel like I’ve achieved a great personal milestone. Returning to the home class D airport the tower controller is patient as I struggle, struggle and struggle some more to locate the field. I know where it is because the VOR is on the field, and finally almost over the top the runway I win the battle with the western sun that is telling me to include a good quality pair of sunglasses in the flight bag next trip, I go ahead and land, relieved to be home.

Yes, I do go on to “drive” airplanes and become a real pilot, even after investing considerable time and treasure, all the while knowing: If you want to be a pilot, you better believe!

4 Comments

  • Nicely told. You brought back vividly many of the feelings I had as a student pilot. There is nothing quite like conquering the fear, timidity, and uncertainty of early student days: making the cross-country flights, going up at night, deliberately stalling airplanes until it was fun, and more… now confident but careful, not cocky (not yet, at least!).

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