Dear Amelia Earhart:
Extra Training: Flight Two
Dear Ms. Earhart,
Last night I prayed to St. Therese, the patron saint of flight, and asked her, just this once, if she would clear the skies and keep the winds calm. I didn’t hear back from her straight away, but by the time I showed at the flight line, I was met with exactly what I wished for; blue-bird skies for as far as I could see and a wind sock that resembled a deflated hot air balloon. Yes Ms. Earhart, it was a perfect day to solo. While I readied the plane, I double-tied the laces on my lucky Chuck Taylor sneakers, and stood under the wing and waited for my Instructor Pilot to come. He showed up right on time, sporting the same grin he wore the day before. “Ready to solo?” He asked and glanced at my feet. He chuckled. Maybe he likes Chuck Taylor sneakers too. We flew north up the beach to a remote airport called Ormond and entered the traffic pattern. I’ll admit I had the jitters, not quite sure what to expect. I was determined to remember all the procedures without being prompted. My first landing attempt was a single approach with multiple touch downs, only the first one being intended. Yuk! We pulled off on to the taxiway and my instructor faced me in the cockpit. He slugged my arm and then shook my shoulders. He told me to shake off the nerves and said this time around the patch (pilot slang for the traffic pattern) he would zip his lips, leave his feet flat on the floor and sit on his hands. He kept his word. As we flew the rectangular pattern to the landing runway, instead of waiting for him to ask me what came next, I spoke the cues aloud myself: Turn, adjust the power, monitor airspeed, lower the flaps; and in a blink, I was on the final approach making a radio call to inform any other pilots around that I was about to land. This time, the wheels on the Cessna 172 high-wing airplane rolled on the ground the way oil might slide over glass. Then, are you ready for this Ms. Earhart? He asked me to pull over, and once I did, he climbed out of the plane. Holy Cow! I didn’t have a rearview mirror, but I’m pretty sure my mouth gaped wide enough to swallow a gut-full of the Atlantic ocean. My IP finger waved, turned, and walked into the grassy area on the side of the runway. I taxied the plane to the departure area, and after checking the final approach path clear, I pulled out, and lined up with the centerline. I glanced over at my instructor who had stretched out flat in the grass like he was laying on a lounge chair catching some sun. My thighs trembled. If he wasn’t worried, I shouldn’t have been, right? (Yeah, sure.)
My C-172 broke ground and lifted into the air. I made a 90 degree turn crosswind, then downwind and base, and when I finally turned final, I found myself wishing I didn’t have to return to the earth. But I did as I was told, despite my instinct to turn east over the ocean, and go off to search for manatees and sea dwellers. Talking to myself the entire way down the final flight path, I floated like a eagle, and as I raised the nose, the tires squeaked against the pavement again. I let go of a breath I had no idea I was holding and let the airplane roll down the remaining runway. From the side window, I noticed my IP on foot, paralleling my path, running, with his fist thrusting in the air. Perhaps he wasn’t as relaxed as he acted.
At the end of the pavement, I turned onto the taxiway. My IP approached from the tail of the plane, tapped on my window and sliced his hand across his throat. I nodded my head, and cut the fuel to the engine. The propeller spun a couple more rotations and then came to an abrupt halt. My instructor’s lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear through the closed window. I’d barely unlatched the door lock when my IP reached in and opened the cockpit door. “Get out!” He shouted and I slid out of the seat. He grabbed my wrist and spun me around until my back faced him. Before I could ask why, I heard scissors snip, snip, and then felt a light ocean breeze lap against my bare back. I whirled around, uncertain if my IP had lost his mind, and when my eyes met his, he smiled his signature grin. He explained that cutting the shirt tails was a first solo flight ritual: every newbie soloist gets their shirt torn as a right of passage. After that, he took the lower portion of the back of my shirt and spread it flat against the airplane’s clipboard, and pulled a black marker from his pants pocket. He started scribbling like an artist on canvas. He outlined a wide runway, with a stick airplane, and wrote “08” at the end. He added the name of the airport, the date and then signed a loop de loop signature that looked like the flight path of an aerobatic pilot. I’m in!! I leapt in the air Ms. Earhart, and then jumped in a circle. I spent the remaining hour of my flight block making laps around the traffic pattern while my IP watched from his grassy viewing stand on the ground.
There are no words,
A soloed pilot
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