The First Time Landing An Airplane
Updated: Jan 31
Reaching for a goal can be a daunting task. Especially if the goal ends up being harder to achieve than you ever imagined. Learning how to fly an airplane was one of those goals. Learning how to land an airplane was even more difficult.
I recall my first lesson like it happened yesterday. The day is burned into my memory… maybe because I was so nervous I thought I might throw up. I got out of the truck and walked across the tarmac toward the trainer plane on legs so shaky I thought they might collapse underneath me. It was July 6th... Hot... Muggy... Breezy, and I was both excited and anxious.
For my first lesson, I was instructed to hang on to the yoke (it’s kind of like a steering wheel), and place my feet on the rudder pedals so I could feel how my instructor was manipulating the airplane controls. My hands were so slippery from sweat, and the ball of tension tightening in my stomach had me holding my breath as the wheels first came off the ground. My stomach did a little flip like it does from that first drop on a roller coaster, and from that moment on I knew I was hooked.
I’ve never felt such a rush! I was in the air! You know that giddy feeling you get when you are so excited about something that you don’t trust yourself to speak because you just want to squeal, “Weeeeeeeee!” like when you were a kid? Well, that is how I felt on the first take off.
The first lessons were basically learning how to maneuver the airplane for take-off and landing configurations, and learning how an airplane stalls so you don’t accidently stall the plane when you’re flying.
I don’t mind telling you that I hated stalls. They scared the crap out of me!
My instructor made it look easy, though, and his calm demeanor was a balm to my worried mind. We would be flying at around 4,000 feet when he would slow the plane down to a crawl and ease the nose up until the airplane would lose the wind holding her wings up, and suddenly, WOOOOSH! The airplane would drop, nose first, out of the air.
I likened it to a bomb being dropped out of a B-52 Bomber, and I swear it seemed like we were dropping straight down toward Houghton Lake. Boaters and rippling water was all you could see through the windshield.
In reality, it was nothing as drastic as my mind conjured, and I have to laugh when I think back on it. But the first time I stalled the plane on my own ended up a little differently.
It was nice and windy the day I tried it. The hot summer sun had warmed the earth, and the winds aloft were gusting in all different directions. Slow at getting a handle on my fear, the sweat rolled down the back of my neck and wet my palms making it difficult to hang onto the yoke as I prepared the plane for a stall. Being I was nervous, and eased the yoke back like a sloth flying the plane, it took forever for the damn thing to stall.
I held it, and held it while the plane wallowed in the air like a wounded hippopotamus wading through a river. Suddenly, a gust of wind blasted us from the west causing that wing to lift higher than the other, and the plane stalled.
“FINALLY!” I thought.
At this point, I just waited for the nose of the plane to drop like it was supposed to. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
When the one wing stalled before the other, the plane cartwheeled toward the west first, that wing leading the stall, and the nose quickly followed. As you might imagine, the drop out of the sky became a bit off balance, and all I could think about was the ‘flat spin’ from the movie, “Top Gun,” where Maverick and Goose eject out of an F14 Tomcat, and Goose gets killed. Yeah… I know. The Cessna 172 is nothing compared to a F14, but we were still in the air, and In A Stall!
“This is BAD!” I worried, as the sweat soaked my shirt.
Now I’m freaking out!
But I had been exposed to enough situations at this point in the training that I was able to hold my shit together even though I was falling apart inside. “Ummm…. David?” I said, trying to keep my cool, “A little help?”
His response was hilarious now that I look back at it, but not so funny at the time. As calm as could be, he said, “Huh… it wasn’t supposed to do that.”
I didn’t really know David very well back then, so when he said that, I immediately thought, “Yep… we’re toast.”
I transferred control of the airplane back to David, my now free hands clawing at the ceiling of the tiny, metal capsule we were locked in, feeling for anything to grab onto. At this point, the seatbelt holding me in was the only thing stopping me from crawling into the backseat. Finally, I found the strap you grab onto when you get into the plane, and hung on for dear life.
I know we had lots of time to recover the stall because we were so high in the air, but it didn’t do much to calm my growing hysteria. The funniest thing was the whole time the airplane was plummeting toward Houghton Lake, David continued his teaching like we were sitting at a café talking about stall recovery over a cup of coffee.
Finally, he showed me how to recover the stall, walking me through it with my hands on the yoke. And then we did it again.
After that day, I understood that I could recover an airplane from a stall if I kept my cool and thought about what was going on. It’s when you panic that you can make things worse in an airplane.
With how to recover from a stall checked off the list, it was time for me to land the airplane.
My first attempt at landing the plane was a joke. You see, when you start getting nervous, it’s really easy to start driving the plane like a car. But the yoke doesn’t work like a steering wheel. It makes the wings tip from side to side.
So here I am coming in on final, steering that airplane like a bus. The airplane begins tipping from side to side as we near THE GROUND. Then the wind starts pushing us around, so I get the great idea that I need to apply some rudder in order to counteract the wind effects.
I start working the rudder pedals like I’m pedaling a bike. Now the plane is going crazy, tipping from side to side and wagging it’s big, metal tail like a very happy, flying dog. Needless to say, I was having one hell of a time trying to get that airplane to fly straight.
I look over at David sitting in the right seat, and he is looking quite bored as I labor over the controls.
Finally, I asked him, “Why is the plane doing this?! What is going on?!”
He says, “I don’t know. What are you doing?”
Bless his heart, that man has the patience of a saint! I don’t know how he does it – give flying lessons, that is.
The runway is getting closer and closer, and David is asking me to think. Once again, he took the controls and guided me through the motions.
I can’t tell you how many attempts it took me to finally land that airplane. It seemed I would never catch on, but it finally clicked. The day those wheels made the telltale squawk noise from a decent landing, I couldn’t get the plane stopped fast enough so I could bounce up and down in my seat and yell, “I did it!”
Reaching for goals in life can be as scary as learning how to fly an airplane, but the reward of accomplishing something difficult is a feeling you won’t ever want to go away.
Setting Goals - coming up next!
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