It may or may not surprise, but the Hobbit and I have never shared the same cockpit before in Actual Flight. It was partly, I think, that kind of innate caution against orphanage which in it’s most exceptional manifestation prevents mothers and fathers from flying together on the same commercial airliner. Too, I had a trust gap of my own: Willing for years to fling myself through the echoing halls of air, I retained a subdued hesitance to trust my own meager general aviation skills to carry my most precious cargo. Finally, herself has a bit of an aversion to complex machinery and a very slight inclination towards le mal de l’air.
Yesterday all of that was overcome.
With the kids out visiting, we had a few hours to ourselves and the club Cardinal was not in use. Driving south to Montgomery, I had an internal squabble with myself about how much to try and explain about what we’d do, and how it would be done. Finally I settled on the very briefest outline: We’d fly down the coast as far as Point Loma, through San Diego Bay to the bridge, and then back over the top of Lindbergh Field to La Jolla again before striking east to Ramona, having overflown Chez Lex along the way. Back to Montgomery for the ILS full stop.
She was game enough to help me unwrap the machine for our use, removing the tiedown chains without asking and settling herself in the right seat. I offered to bring the seat up for her the better to get a grip on the controls, but she politely demurred. This would be fine, she said, her crossed legs as far from the rudder pedals as a four year old’s are above the floor from the daddy chair. Having known her practically all my life, and impressed as I remain by her quiet strength and courage I am nevertheless surprised from time to time to discover that she is a wee, little thing.
Approaching the hold short for our engine checks I detected a moment’s nervousness. Shall we turn back, I asked, her eyes shining?
No, no. Let’s go.
Once the throttle is run up, the time for second thoughts is mostly over. Airplanes are meant to fly, and some of them come to resent any perceived ambivalence on the part of their pilots once full power has been applied. An aborted take-off is better than an inevitable crash should something catastrophic creep in, but it’s nothing like as certain as a normal landing, far less a normal take-off. She made as though to grip my leg once we’d broken ground, but mastered herself. Once the wheels were up and the flaps retracted, I pulled power to cruise climb, set the prop at 2500 RPM and leaned the engine out to 13 gallons per hour. As we picked up speed I pointed out various landmarks that she had only ever seen from the ground and she visibly relaxed.
Does it not surprise you, I asked, how close things are that seem so far apart when we must drive to them in traffic?
Not at all, she answered. Everything is so much bigger than I had imagined. You can see almost forever.
She had a good point.
I pointed out the seals controversially slumbering at the Children’s Pool at La Jolla. Checked in with Lindbergh Tower for the coastline transition southbound, 500 feet or below. Mission Bay gave over to Pacific Beach and in turn to Ocean Beach, and then we hugged the coastline until the tip of Point Loma. Up into the bay, and there were sailboats everywhere, my bride as delighted as a child at all of it (although the hemi-, demi-, quasi steep turn at the Coronado Bay Bridge gave her a moment’s pause. Banking an airplane to turn is as necessary as breathing is to live, but I learned over our short time together that she vastly preferred turns to the left, than right. The sense being that she might only fall towards me in a left hand turn, but that she might fall out in turns to the right. She was tightly belted into her seat, and of course there was a locked door between her, the wind and the sea but it takes a little while to overcome the fear of falling, which gives birth, I think, to the fear of flying.)
Crossing 1500 feet over the Delta Taxiway at Lindbergh we had jet liners launching to our left and landing to our right. Back up the coast as far as Del Mar before following Highway 56 past our own abode she grew increasingly relaxed and even thoughtful. It’s one thing to see the place you have lived for nearly a decade from the front door, quite another to see it from above. It gives you a sense of scale.
By the time we got into the landing pattern at Ramona, she was trying to move her seat forward a bit, but it’s harder than it looks to do once airborne, and virtually impossible to assist from the left seat while actually flying. The landings themselves were gratefully uninteresting, apart from a requirement to do a go around on the first attempt when a Cherokee pilot who had asked for a stop and go was directed to perform a touch and go instead petulantly decided to merely stop right there on the runway. For all the 200 horses under the cowl, the Cardinal is but an indifferent climber under even the best conditions and a balked landing from full flaps requires a fair amount of handiwork to gradually retract the flaps, accelerate to a good climb speed and get the cowl flaps open again. I do my normal approaches with the prop full flat since that’s one less thing to worry about on a go around.
By the time we’d completed our full stop back at Montgomery, the lady was perfectly at her ease. As we wrapped the machine back up for the night, she turned to me with a smile on her face and said, “I want to do it again.”
So do I.