Up early for no better reason than the sun had come up. Had mad, impetuous notions of working through my email queue, but it was not to be. People write long, thoughtful messages that of a courtesy require long, thoughtful replies. But time is the fire we all burn in, and thought is hard to come by in the early, aye, early-o.
Had to rush out of doors for the CrossFit WOD, this one only moderately hellish. Had three flights today, and the odds of flying first and heading to the gym after are vanishingly small. Especially in the summertime. That all glass canopy on the Varga makes for a lovely view – you couldn’t BFM without it – but it does make for something of a hothouse in the summertime.
My first guest pilot was a nice enough fellow, from right here in Sandy Eggo. Had that look in his eye like he really wanted to win, paid close attention in the brief and seemed excited to climb in the machine. To label him “ham fisted” once in flight though would be to dishonor history’s entire inventory of pugnus porcus. He was that rough. Using the control stick to explore the corners of the cockpit more than the flight envelope, like.
Three hacks smooved him out a bit, and eventually we wore our adversary down on the last bout, Bronco Chuck, our chief pilot and a retired Navy SWO with a decided preference for winning by powering up above his prey. And then swooping down from on high. The crafty beast.
Our second guest was a much smoother pilot, having the benefit of 40-50 hours back in the day. Had his eyes on a private pilot’s license until life’s realities got in the way. You only need two things to fly: Airspeed and money. Number two ran out for him. Each of them had won his flight from a wife or girlfriend as a Christmas present. Who watched me brief their significant others with wide, hopeful eyes. And who, once we’ve walked out to the flight line and strapped in, take pictures, wave and smile cheerfully. But always you can see in their eyes the first hint of doubt. Our craft are small, our bodies fragile, the air so insubstantial and the earth so very unyielding. Joy always mingles with relief when we return. There was never any reason to fret, and now there are pictures.
One of the fun things about the dogfight experience for our customers (I think) is that this is the sort of thing that would require a good two or three hundred hours of high priced instruction to get to on your own, and even then you could really be sure of being safe unless you’d spent hundreds more hours preparing, briefing, executing and professionally debriefing with someone who had been shaped by the same process. We get them there on the first go ’round, skipping all of that start, taxi, take-off rigmarole.
Our final guest was a one hour “learn to fly.” Most of the folks I’ve flown with on this kind of hop are people thinking about taking private lessons and working on a certificate, but they haven’t committed to the whole notion yet. Your man was in his mid-thirties, informally groomed, but inordinately serious as I went through the brief. Almost grim. Immune to your correspondent’s several charms and not evidencing any obvious enthusiasm for what lay ahead. To such a degree that, even as we briefed the theory and procedures, I found myself wondering why anyone would have put himself in such a position if he didn’t see the opportunity that was in it. Turning over in my head possible motives alternative to a joy for flying I became, in fact, uneasy.
As a kind of test, I told him that once we’d cleared the runway – having successfully completed our flight -that he would be able to taxi back to the flight line, he asked me to explain the use of the rudders and toe brakes and asked him if he had any questions. The fact that he did have questions on ground taxi reassured me somewhat. In the event, I let him fly the take-off (with my own hands making a small ring around the stick to limit any excursions) and climb out over the ocean. Some fairly standard level speed changes and turn patterns followed, and then a series of power-off stalls. I showed him a passable example of recovering from an attempt to “stretch the glide,” losing less than 50 feet or so in the recovery: Throttle up, ease the angle of attack and right rudder to keep her in coordinated flight. Eighty miles per hour for the climb.
Hizzoner fairly gooned his first attempt, and I asked would he like another shot. He would, it seemed, and he did a far better job the second bout. Are you having a good time, I asked him after, looking over my shoulder.
I am, he said, nodding his head and seeming almost surprised at his answer. I really am.
That’s grand, said your correspondent. During the brief I almost wondered if you were happy to be here.
Oh, that. He said. It’s a long story.
Which we never got into, a man’s private reasons being private, like. Visual nav from that point, 500 feet down the coast, an eastbound turn at Crystal Pier, follow the 5 northbound to the 56, joined the 15 just north of Black Mountain – there’s where the people lost their houses in the fire last October – over Lake Hodges and Del Dios reservoir and back to the field again. I shot the first approach to landing from a straight in, joined the downwind for another touch and go, and gave it over to him for two approaches.
It’s no simple thing to find yourself landing a small plane on your first flight touching the controls, especially when all of the performance instruments are in the cockpit ahead of you. Your man did a credible job for all that, with myself prompting airspeed and pitch angle “recommendations.” I flew the full stop approach to landing, exactly one hour on the Hobbes.
A software engineer, as it turned out. Whose girlfriend had bought the flight for him as a surprise. He’ll go back to work on Monday having performed one take-off, two landings, a pair of power-off stalls and visual navigation around San Diego.
Already 5 PM by the time we were done. Supper and a movie after. “Kung Fu Panda,” “Wanted” being sold out. Winding it down now.
These days, they go by, and they leave no trace behind. Only this.