On those days where the air is like liquid gold….smooth, silky, not a bump anywhere; where the temperatures are cool enough that having to keep a hawk-like watch on the engine monitor isn’t required, but it’s not so cold that shivering is a constant companion….
Those are the moments I love to fly. Probably more correctly said, they are moments that the experience seems more vivid, more sensual, almost palpably pleasurable. (The realization also comes that I love the nights when the weather simply sucks, and I get through shooting the approach, the runway comes into view, and as I taxi in I realize I’ve run on adrenaline for the last hour…)
Yesterday I flew the Husky again. My one and only pre-solo student wanted to fly the Husky. Again. I started her in the Husky a couple of years ago, taught her the basic stick-and-rudder skills I wanted her to have, then foisted her off on another instructor. The Husky is a great plane….for flying in and out of grass fields, for back-country flying, for short fields. It really isn’t an ideal trainer for a middle aged first time student. The “left vs. right” on the rudder pedals, the coordination required for turns, the absolute precision required on flaring to land….it’s just a lot to learn for someone who comes later in life to flying.
She had been taking lessons from her instructor in the plastic airplane, but a week or so ago pestered me to go fly the Husky. Out we went, and much to my surprise she did very well. Made the entire flight by herself, I didn’t have to touch the controls at all. Mind you, I did coach a few times….(coaching being defined as doing my best imitation of a WWII flight instructor yelling). Several “greasers” left me feeling like there was hope.
Less than two weeks ago I had been asked to speak at a meeting held at a local airport. I flew in, landed, and got out of the Skywagon on an afternoon pulled from a Norman Rockwell print. There wasn’t a breath of wind, the trees were a gorgeous fall color, and as the sun approached the western horizon the few thin clouds in the distance made the color perfect. An antique biplane was hopping rides, and as I simply stood and watched, the biplane took off. Sudden smoke and fire began to consume the plane, and as the pilot turned for a field, the fabric on the fuselage and upper wing was consumed, and it fell to the ground.
I didn’t know him well. We knew each other by name, and I had flown an event for him a couple of weeks prior, where he had greeted me (as he did everyone) warmly, and his reputation was that of a careful, conscientious pilot. From my limited vantage point, he had done everything right.
Yesterday, my pre-solo student flew the Husky again. I sat in the back seat, not even doing my WWII instructor imitation. She flew well. A bit of quiet coaching was met with continued improvement. One bounce required my intervention, but otherwise was a great flight. The taxi in, and out; the last landing which was a perfect 3 pointer, exiting at the first taxiway without effort….gave me great pride in her achievement. I remembered the days when I couldn’t get her to differentiate “left” from “right” with her feet….now the Husky easily goes where she guides it. Her takeoffs are a work of art…the plane stays straight, the tail rises to the perfect attitude, and the plane gently lifts off.
Flight instruction is a strange business. Great pride in seeing your student do well. Many memories of flights well done; some memories of narrow escapes; and the rare memory of tragedy. How do you encourage someone to “take a bite of the apple”, and yet convince them that this too, can kill them? How do you mesh the pure joy of flight with the sure knowledge of risk into your soul? Error…whether one’s own or someone else’s; failure….whether mechanical or human; fate….all are jackals that orbit in the darkness. Our skill, our training, our joy……and fate…..all are part of the warm fire by which we warm ourselves, and keep the jackals in the distance.
Flying, and instructing…..mixed emotions.