My wife and I have six grandkids and when we go flying, we like to take one of them with us. The kids know that they get to go for their first plane ride when they turn four years old. Well, Ava turned four in October and asked when she could go for her first airplane ride.
Grandpa has a set of rules he flies by for the first plane ride. The weather needs to be perfect. Sunny, no clouds which might produce thermals, light breeze, and moderate temps.
Finally, February 23 was one of those days. We keep our plane at the south ramp hanger at the Dane County Airport (MSN), and after we got to the hangar she got a preflight briefing along with the airplane. She is asked, more than once, if she is scared or nervous. If either, we will go to Culvers instead (we will go to Culvers either way). I do not want her to think she has to go flying just because she has been asking to go.
She gets to help push the airplane out of the hangar and watch the final checks. In goes the booster seat, then I lift up Ava and strap her into the seat. Again, I ask if she still wants to go flying. She says she is ready to go.
I get in, close and latch the doors, get the headsets on, and go through the before start checklist, explaining what I am doing and checking. She’s four—more interested in watching the National Guard jets take off.
Engine start, radios on, lights on, ATIS copied. I ask again if she is ready. For me, she is the go/no go decision maker. I check our mics and headset so we can hear and talk to each other. Then I tune in clearance delivery, talk to them. call ground, talk to them, and taxi to the active for a run-up. All is good.
Now, here is a new rule. At any time, Ava can call off the flight by saying stop. But once we get into the air, she has to be able to hang in there for 45 seconds because that is how long it will take me to call the tower for an expedited turn to land, bend it around, and be back on the ground.
I get a thumbs up.
So I add full power, the nose comes up, the wheels are off, and we are flying. I look at her and the look of astonishment is amazing. She says wow. We make our turn to the north level out at 2500 msl as I throttle back and enjoy the ride. I show her Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, some farms and cows in the pasture; all the while her nose is pasted to the window. She is enjoying it and Grandpa is enjoying it even more.
Twenty minutes into the flight, we start a slow 180-degree turn back to MSN. I listen to ATIS, call approach, and am told to expect straight in to runway 21. I tell Ava that we are heading back and that I will really need to listen to the controllers on the radio. She understood because I had explained all this before takeoff.
I called tower and was cleared to land on 21, so I set up for the approach. When I next checked on my passenger, she was asleep, leaning up against me.
- Jackson remarked, “Grandpa, cars sure are small from up there.”
- From Porter, when I told him it was his plane to fly (his hands have a solid grip on the yoke), “OK Grandpa, but you my have to help me.”
Now that is a great day of flying.