When my manager, Shawnda, casually asked me if I like to fly I was immediately on guard. Sure, it sounds like an innocent question, but there is no such thing as an innocent question in a room full of producers and reporters. My news director once called out, “Who watches Harry Potter?” as he held the latest DVD in his hand and I eagerly shot out of my chair with my palm out, like Lindsay Lohan at a pain clinic. In doing so I basically volunteered myself to do yet ANOTHER story on the Harry Potter theme park. I think it was my 163rd that week. And I didn’t get to keep the DVD.
So while I do “like to fly” I had to find out Shawnda’s definition of flying. I define it as arriving at the airport five hours early with two carry-on bags that can barely zip up they’re so stuffed, going through a security check that in any other circumstance would be defined as lewd and lascivious assault, and running late to my gate only to realize they changed the gate number from A26 to ZZ99. Ahhh, traveling.
But Shawnda’s definition of flying turned out to be the kind where brain surgeons must first determine how many neurons in your head are disonnected. Because there would have to be plenty if you suddenly decided – after a lifetime of never even glancing up as a Cessna airplane flies by – that you now want to sit in the pilot seat and fly one. Can you really learn how to fly a plane in just one day? I agreed to go through the hour-long training and take to the skies. Being both female AND Asian I could only hope the plane didn’t require turn signals to operate.
One (1) photographer graciously volunteered to shoot the entire experience, as long as he could do so from the ground. So I armed myself with a flipcam and everything got off to a great start, until we actually arrived at Orlando Executive Airport where instructors with Ready Flight Aviation were waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Apparently there is more than one entrance to the airport. Once we got the directions figured out we drove to the hangar where we were greeted by company president Nick Christakos and instructor Moises Ruiz who explained that his nervousness was more about doing an on-camera interview and not about training an Asian female to fly a plane.
“Anyone can fly a plane!” according to Moises. “Even five-year-olds?” I asked. “Uhhh, I guess if their parents let them,” he said. And he meant it. There is no age limit for flight training, but you do have to be the ripe old age of 15 to have your pilot’s license. Seriously.
He started off my flight training session by first putting a cushion on the seat so I could see over the controls, then he explained everything in laymen’s terms. Apparently more dihedral causes more aerodynamic cohesion which also causes the rudder to control both the roll and yaw axis. “It’s just as easy as driving a car,” Moises said, and since it was my first time he didn’t go into too much detail about the adiabatic lapse rate of barometric pressure.
As we taxied out onto the runway, with my photographer shooting from a safe distance of 215 miles, the rest of the instructions went like this, literally:
Moises: “This is the throttle.”
Me: “This long knob sticking out?”
Moises: “Yes. As we line the plane up on the runway you’re going to slide it in.”
Me: “All the way or just the tip?”
Moises: “All the way, but not too fast, we don’t want any jerky movements.”
And we were off!!! It really was as easy as Moises said it would be, mostly because he grabbed the controls as I stared in wonder out the window. From up there I finally got a chance to peer into the Belle Isle neighborhood without being escorted off. We flew to a big lake in Apopka. I think. My sense of direction was horribly turned around. He taught me how to dip the wing left, then straighten out again. We made a right-hand circle using the pedals. I asked if I could do a loopty-loop but Moises said since it was a small plane there was only one parachute. I think he was kidding.
After an hour of dipping, climbing, and saying random things like, “Echo, two, charlie, niner, Narnia” it was time to start heading back to the airport. Had I been flying solo I would still be coasting aimlessly over Clermont somewhere because try as I might, I simply could NOT see the Orlando skyline he kept pointing out as a landmark to head toward.
Landing turned out to be the easiest part of the entire trip because I froze as we came in over the 408 and Moises was forced to take over. It was a wonderful experience! The folks at Flight Ready Aviation offer these flights to anyone for $75. It would make the perfect holiday gift for the airplane enthusiast in your life. I have just 39 more hours until I qualify for my pilot’s license. And about 170 more years until I can save enough to buy a plane.