The wild blue yonder

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

One of my teachers at W.O. Parmer Elementary wrote something along these lines on my report card once: &uot;Very bright, but fearful about trying new things.&uot;

As an adult, I’ve tried to move beyond my fears and out of my self-imposed shell. So, last week, I went and flew a plane.

This all started when I got another e-mail from &uot;Be A Pilot&uot;, a nationwide program that offers a flight lesson at a discounted price to ordinary folks like you and me. It’s an effort to foster interest in the field of general aviation.

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I decided it might be time to try my wings (I couldn’t resist).

Lessons are free to members of the media. It’s good publicity for the participating flight school and makes for an interesting feature for a journalist to write.

And I had a very personal reason for wanting to do this.

My late father once took flight lessons on the GI Bill. He loved &uot;getting above it all&uot;, and even soloed before he decided to give it up and put his money into the farming operation.

Wouldn’t be fun, I thought, to follow in his footsteps and discover what it felt like to take those controls for myself?

Griffin, our sports editor, signed on as my photographer for the flight (ah, to be young and unafraid!).

So, last Wednesday, we climbed into his SUV and headed to South Star Aviation in Montgomery. Were we nervous? Sure, but we were also excited.

It would be the smallest plane either of us had ever flown in – a four-seater, single-engine job. It definitely fell under the category of &uot;something new&uot;.

Our assigned instructor, Henry, was stuck in another city, so we were reassigned to another pilot, Cole Simon.

The first sight of our new instructor – a lanky, wide-eyed, downy-cheeked young man – was not a reassuring one.

When Cole stepped out of the room briefly, Griffin leaned over and said, &uot;Uhm, does it bother you a little that our pilot is so – young?&uot;

(For the record, Cole is 20; he just looks like he should be standing in line to get his learner’s permit.)

As it turned out, Cole, the son of a recently retired airline pilot, is a fully qualified flight instructor who has logged hundreds of hours in the air since getting his certificate. And he was very thorough in going through all the pre-flight checklists with me – standard procedure before any flight, he explained.

(I suspect if we all checked over our vehicles as carefully as we went over that little Piper Cherokee, there would probably be far fewer accidents on the road each day.)

With Griffin snugly tucked into the rear of the plane, I climbed over the wing (these are NOT easy access vehicles) and into the pilot’s seat. Me, in the pilot’s seat!

As the single propeller began to spin and the plane roared to life, I adjusted my bulky headphones (the noise level forces pilot and passengers to wear mikes to communicate with each other).

I also adjusted the butterflies in my stomach.

We taxied out to the runway. &uot;When I give you the signal, put your hand on the throttle, say ‘One, two, three’ as you slowly push it forward,&uot; Cole explained.

And so I did – and watched the plane’s nose rise, felt the little Piper lift off the ground as we soared into the wild blue yonder…

Daddy, you were right: it IS fun. Best of all – we lived to tell about it.

(To read all about our trip into the wild blue yonder, read next Saturday’s feature story.)

Angie Long is a Lifestyles writer and columnist for The Greenville Advocate. She may be contacted at home by phone at 382-5145.