If you have read my blog, you know I became a pilot, and love to fly. What you don’t know is why?
Sometime after 1980, I developed a fear of flying. It was so real, that I took a sleeper car (train) a couple of times a year from Los Angeles grand central station, to Kansas City, Missouri where my home office was. I don’t have any rationale for this sudden development, but it was so real that one time, when my wife dropped me off at LAX, I took two valium tranquilizers thinking I would be happy to ride anything. I beat her home in a taxi. I was embarrassed and it was hurting my career, my family life, and self confidence.
I had a talk with my “maker” and committed to overcome this silly thing. That’s when I met my friend “Rube” who was a pilot and invited me to go flying with him. Having controls in my hand, a front row seat, and faith to proceed, I was bitten with the aviation bug. I learned to overcome my fear by actually facing it head on.
It’s the head on part I want to write about in this entry. When you learn to fly, you hear the stories of when the trainer asks you to stop the airplane, steps out of the cockpit, and sends you on your way. It’s called Solo and it comes without warning, though your instructor must think it’s time to turn you loose; usually after about 12 hours of training. I knew I was close, but nothing prepared me for the moment that Jaren stepped out. “Do three touch-and-goes,” he said, “and I’ll see you in the hanger.”
As I taxied to the end of the runway my palms began to moisten and my stomach was starting to crawl toward my throat. I took my time doing the run up and listened for traffic. What on earth was I doing? I thought I must be nuts. This was not a tower controlled airport, but one in which pilots simply reported their position. “334CB taking the active 15,” I said, “staying in the pattern.” Full throttle in, as I waited for the aircraft to reach rotation speed. Ease back on the yoke, a little more right rudder, and off I went. The thrill of leaving the runway and watching it get smaller and smaller was overwhelming… and then it hit me: I had to land this thing.
I turned and reported left cross wind, left downwind, and left base. As I turned for short final, I reported such. Then came the startling news: “United flight 231, on one mile final for 33.” In aviation, you can use either direction of the runway, but the active runway is usually favoring flight into the wind- which in this case was 15. For a commercial airliner, a little breeze doesn’t matter, so he was coming in on the glide slope for 33. This was setting up my first solo flight for a head on collision with what could have been a 747. I reported back, “334CB, short final for 15, and um…”with a voice that sounded like I had just entered puberty with a gargle, “this is my first solo flight.”
Came back the reply… “Great going little guy, it’s your runway,” as he broke to the west and circled around- sucking pounds of fuel not gallons. The passengers must have wondered why the sudden abort. I was grateful.
I have thought many times since of this experience. I took a leap of faith. I overcame my fear, but was faced with a monster challenge on my first solo flight. The big guy gave way to the little one and was happy to do so. Such is my belief that when we face our challenges head on, many times the obstacles “give way” and the runway is ours to take.
I returned to the hanger, more confident than ever, only to have my shirt cut off by the instructors (weird aviation tradition after the first solo flight) who waited anxiously for my safe return. Yet another lesson that day, “No one succeeds alone.”