There I was, bouncing around in the backseat of a Cessna 172 as my friend tried to stabilize the aircraft while our pilot was simultaneously shutting the door. Yet no amount of slamming seemed to lock the door in place. It would merely rebel by jerking open yet again. We were in quite the dilemma at several hundred feet. This experience was certainly not what I would have expected from an introductory flight!
If you were to rewind to the beginning of our turbulent flight you would view my friend and me eagerly waiting at the terminal. This introductory flight we were going to take would be my third in a small aircraft and my friend’s first. With eternal grins and giggles, we overlooked the aircraft and performed a preflight check with the pilot. After briefly discussing the flight, we were off. Our plan was for me to fly in the front seat from our departure airport in South Carolina, at the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport (SPA), to a local airport near our capital of Columbia. Then, on the return the flight I would hop in the back seat and trade places with my friend. The trip was estimated to take about an hour.
Upon departure, we cleared the local facilities and gained altitude for our trek towards Columbia. It was a beautiful day with a piercing blue sky. Though we did have some clouds jockeying next to our Cesena 172, we still had some clear patches where we could view the ground. My friend and I pondered how indescribable and almost cartoon-like the rich whiteness of the clouds was. We continued our delicate dance between earth and atmosphere until we reached our stopping point. Luckily, when we reached the airport there was a break in the clouds and we started on final. As we approached the airport, I started to get a queasy feeling but quickly dismissed it as we landed.
When we arrived at the uncontrolled airport, I made sure to stretched my legs before switching places with my friend. The pilot quickly asked if we were good to go, then we were off once again. But this time with much more excitement then our first tranquil flight.
We had gone a little way when suddenly a curious thought entered my mind as I sat in the back. I pondered, “I wonder how many flights you have to take before something goes wrong?” Literally no sooner had the question vanished from my mind than the side door start to make some strange noises. Shocked, I watched as all of our attention flung to my friend’s side door. Unbeknownst to us all, she did not slam the door hard enough when we were preparing to take off. Amazingly, the door had remained closed as we climbed but it now decided to unlatch.
The pilot anxiously reached across my friend and tried opening and closing the door. Yet, instead of staying locked with the force he exerted it merely mocked him by bouncing back. The result was an extremely noisy cacophony of groans, smashing metal, and air. Suddenly, I felt the familiar but most unwelcome feeling of nausea overwhelm me. Our straight and level aircraft quickly turned into a wooden rocking horse with all the up and down movement the plane was creating. My head craned down only to stare dangerously at the naked ground which lay before me, because of the open door. I rapidly reached for a bag and was quite thankful for seatbelts.
While the pilot was busy wrestling the door, our lives were in the hands of my friend. Though 14 at the time and with no previous flight experience, she had to temporarily fly the plane. We must have been quite the sight to behold—with the pilot battling the door, my friend now in command of the aircraft, and me hiding my head in a shopping bag.
Finally, he successfully closed the door and regained control of the Cessna from my grateful friend. However, we still had 20 minutes to go before we reached our destination. I was completely sick at this point and our pilot easily spotted the tell-tale signs of motion sickness. He decided to help by opening his push-to-open window. But to his chagrin, as he started to crack the window our rebellious plane decided it had not finished tormenting us. Once the window was open it quickly slammed shut on his fingers. Immediately, he tried freeing his captive fingers but the window was reluctant to release them. At last, after a loud “OW!” battle cry, the window gave him back his hostage hand.
Still the motion sickness would not leave me and even after several attempts to cure the illness it merely grew worse. Finally, we were closing in on our local airport, which I could have never been more grateful to gaze upon. We briskly taxied off of the runway and came to a stop. Then, I shot out of the back seat like an injured bear out of a pen. I panted heavily as I crawled away from the plane on all fours. My mother and brother waved with large grins as they waited to hear how our flight went. Later on, I gratefully kissed the ground and thanked God motion sickness does not last forever.
Though not the most pleasant experience, this episode has certainly not changed my excitement or passion for pursing aviation. But this memorable introductory flight has taught me an important life lesson, which I will use as I continue to fly. I now understand how imperative it is to always be on guard and to expect the unexpected. Anything truly can happen and it is critical not to take anything for granted, whether it be an engine or even a side-door. As one of my mentors in the aviation world wisely stated, “Aviation is nothing but hours and hours of endless boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.”