Learning to Fly

Date:
Location:
Task:
Challenge #1:
Challenge #2:
Challenge #3:
Summer 2009
Middle of the Rocky Mountains, USA
Earning a pilot’s license
Learning on a small gravel runway
Being instructed by my husband
Doing it all before September when we must return to Germany

* * * * * * * * *

I don’t remember the first time my husband, Martin, (a pilot) proposed that I get a pilot’s license like him. My answer was probably something like, “Yeah, I should do that some day.” Then I’d probably change the subject because truth be told, flying didn’t seem very interesting to me.  The thought of ever even being in a small airplane never crossed my mind before I fell in love with this pilot.

small-plane-flying

Martin gave me a few five minute flight lessons here and there while we were dating. I caught on to the left/right turning thing with my hands and feet a little. It was the up/down that was happening at the same time that made my stomach feel like it was in my throat. That up/down feeling in my stomach was probably the biggest factor in my plans to learn to fly SOME day but not TOday.  I had the worst motion sickness.  Put me on a waterbed, and the waves would probably make me ill.  Flying just didn’t quite strike me… at first.

Martin liked to put his arm around the back of my chair. When I did really well during those lessons, he kissed my cheek. I asked if he did that with all of his flight students.

I didn’t practice flying much.  Most of the time we went flying, I was busy taking on this role. I was very good at it:

jet-lag

The elevation always knocked me out. I tried my hardest to stay awake, but just like when you take commercial flights, I got worn out. It was jetlag in a bitty plane.

Then we got married. We didn’t fly much.

We moved to Germany; we didn’t fly at all.

For the first time, I wasn’t pressured about becoming a pilot.  Most people in Germany didn’t even know about this hidden love of Martin’s, so of course I wasn’t asked about flying.  We had absolutely no access to general aviation in Europe.  And somehow being away from it all for the first time… well I started getting interested in the idea.

We decided to save up some money and work near a little airport where he’d be doing a little of this:

Martin at work

When Martin and I used to be at small airports, no one ever expected that I was a pilot. They figured Martin was the pilot for one basic reason: I’m a girl; he’s a guy. Aviation is dominated by men. (Only .025% of women are pilots) I could never even count how many pilots I have met since Martin and I started dating, yet I can tell you one thing without hesitation:  NONE of them have ever been women.

* * * * * * * * *

05/2009

We’ve packed our bags and left the big city for the summer.  Our rental house looks like this (it’s made out of tires – here’s a tire house tour):

tire retaining wall

The runway looks like this:

mountain-airplane-flying

Most pilots learn how to fly at professional schools around the country with flight simulators and large classrooms. I’m going to learn to fly on a gravel runway. My classroom will be the little hangar that smells like oil and our kitchen table, which is why I think it’ll be such an interesting adventure to share with all of you.

Martin is going to teach me along with help from his original teacher (the owner of the airport), so to be perfectly honest, we’re not sure what my biggest challenge is going to be:

  1. learning to fly
  2. learning to do what my instructor – my husband – tells me without arguing and without telling him to quit being so dang bossy

I am very excited and very nervous at the same time. Very soon, it’s going to be time for Martin and me to switch places.

It’ll be the girl in the captain’s seat from now on.

* * * * * * * * *

05/10/2009

I decided to go for it.  I’m a little nervous, a little unsure.  Oh but I do look forward to learning about Martin’s passion and sharing this with him.  I’m going to be his first female flight student!  This will be so much fun.

* * * * * * * * *

5/12/2009

I started crying the other day, absolutely convinced that I would never be able to be a pilot. We were doing a few loops around one of the little airports in the Denver metropolitan area before moving out to the country, and I felt so sick. Martin was flying; I was the passenger, and I could focus on nothing. It felt like if I tried to open my mouth to speak, something else would come out instead. My body was numb, and tears were making me worse. I’d been getting so excited about flying. Was I going to have to give up? Was I going to have to tell all of you and all of my family that I was giving up?

I’d been getting so excited to do this.

You know how drivers never get sick in cars?  It’s always the passengers.  In airplanes, it’s the same way.  Except it’s worse.  If small airplanes had those “fasten seatbelt” signs like commercial planes, those little lights would be illuminated for the entire flight. It’s beyond bumpy in the late afternoon.

At this point, I “fly the plane” by steering for 30 seconds while Martin snaps a picture or looks up something in his flight books.  After 30 seconds, I just can’t do it any more.

Small planes can’t get the kind of elevation that commercial flights get.  It means commercial planes typically get smoother air, but little planes get the view.  Bigger planes have more of what’s called wing load, so the bumps that could bounce a little 2- or 4-seat plane wouldn’t jolt those big planes a bit.

clouds

Now I’m not trying to discourage people from flying; you have to go up when the weather is best.  Spring happens to be the worst season.  And just like I have never met a female pilot, I have never met anyone who battles motion sickness to the extreme level that I do.  Many people have absolutely no problems; I can’t even look at a map in a car.

Martin urges me to hang on.

* * * * * * * * *

05/15/2009

We meet up with friends from Germany who are vacationing in the US.  Want to see some amazing aerial shots of Canyonlands National Park?

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05/16/2009

The four of us zipped over Delicate Arch at Arches National Park.  My stomach got stronger.

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05/30/2009

Before I met Martin, my idea of an airport was revolving doors, metal detectors, and baggage carts. Now I am seeing the other side of things – the part that makes you smell like an oil can if you spend any length of time in it. It’s the part where you get to know the “hangar dog” and “hangar kittie” so well you’re practically BFF. I’m getting used to dirty leather couches. I have to duck my head to get around the wings of airplanes. And dusty piles of aviation magazines abound on banged up coffee tables, sort of like the collections at the hair dresser’s except the aviation magazines aren’t much for gossip.

The good news is that the women’s bathrooms are always really clean. No one’s around to use them!

navion-hangar

* * * * * * * * *

06/04/2009

All these textbooks! For every hour of flight time, I need to spend at least three hours of putting my nose to the books. The weather has been nothing but storms, so all I have are these books.  It’s not nearly as exciting reading about the way engines work as it is checking out the scenery and houses from inside a plane. Aren’t the least exciting things always the most important, though?

ground school

* * * * * * * * *

06/08/2009

Our first official flight lesson.  I got a logbook to track the maneuvers, landings, and details of each flight.  We were up for 0.8 hours (pilot talk for describing our 0.8 hour flight), and I’m exhausted.  I probably went to bed at least 0.8 hours early.

* * * * * * * * *

06/08/2009

I’d love to get my hands on two books:  West with the Night and Flying High: Pioneer Women in American Aviation. There’s something invigorating about seeing little blips in my textbook about women overcoming obstacles. As women, we’re constantly facing obstacles. We feel like we have to create perfect homes, happy families, and great careers. We put so much on ourselves and often fail to achieve our greatest desires sometimes.

Martin naturally flocks to the dining table when he sees my textbook open. He’s just waiting for me to ask about pistons and oil. Meanwhile, before I started thinking of the empowerment aviation offers women, I thought nothing of all the aviation manuals and books we often lug from home to home. I just watched the little oil sticker on our car for the next oil change because it just wasn’t my thing.

airplane-engine

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06/09/2009

Do you ever find yourself so moved that you can hardly sit still? When you know you’re doing something so very rare – maybe not for all women, but something rare for yourself – how do you work to contain your enthusiasm and keep from jumping up and down and waving hysterically?

Since the day I met Martin, he has always looked toward the sky any time he heard a plane fly by. It never mattered what it was, even if it was the same Delta flight that came in every day at the exact same time. He always looked up. I never really got it. Now I’m starting to. Aviation isn’t just his thing any more. We never thought this would be something we could share like we do today.

* * * * * * * * *

Look at this quote by Leonardo da Vinci from his book, On Flight of Birds:

For once you have tasted flight,
You will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward;
For there you have been,
And there you long to return.

* * * * * * * * *

In case I want a little casual airplane reading, Martin also supplied me with one of his all-time favorite childhood books:

childhood german book

Only problem? He didn’t know English back then; it’s in German.

* * * * * * * * *

06/18/2009

I’m learning how to land.  Sometimes it goes well.  My second landing today did not go well.  We sort of touched the ground and bounced 20 feet back into the sky!

Martin cursed.  I gasped.  We gave the airplane full power and went again.

The problem with my landing was that our nose wheel touched down first instead of the two wheels in back.  I didn’t add enough “flair”, which is when you pull back on the controls so your speed and lift shift and – as I learned – your back wheels touch before your front wheels.  You can bet I won’t be making that mistake again.

Return to normal breathing.

* * * * * * * * *

06/26/2009

7:00 a.m. the alarm clock goes off in our little house made of tires. We squint out the window with the same question we have every morning these days: is it a good day for flying? This past week, the answer has usually been, “Yes!” Finally. We’ve had rainstorm after rainstorm like so much of the country.

indoor garden

7:20 I am inspecting the plane. It’s called the “pre-flight”, and it’s as important to flying as putting on glasses so you can see in the morning. The plane I’m learning how to fly is a Cessna 172. It holds four people and a little baggage. Martin has taught me to examine the parts of the wings, the fuel, and a whole list of things. The airplane manual is in my hand so I don’t miss a thing.

preflight

7:35 We are in the plane, doing the startup before we enter the runway. I like being in the pilot’s seat; I get the comfortable headset. It might make Martin uncomfortable, but he doesn’t show it. He is so professional. It really is like we’re student/instructor, not wife/husband. If I try to crack a joke about making crop circles when we get into the sky because we’ll be flying. In circles. Around crops. (Funny, no?) Well he doesn’t laugh like usual. I feel a little shocked, but then I remember my role.

7:40 Takeoff is relatively easy compared to the rest of our journey. When the airplane is ready, it just picks itself up.

country farm

7:45 It’s time to practice turning. Remember when I told you all how worried I was about motion sickness? My ability to get sick absolutely anywhere is actually in my favor. Who knew? See, I am focusing on so many different things – the sky, the point I’m pivoting around, RPMs of the engine, pitch, the radio… Sometimes my altitude gets a little off (okay – a lot off). My stomach screams. Then I try to correct the direction of the nose of the plane.

crop circle aerial view

7:47 I over-correct. The plane is pitched too high. Stomach gets mad again. The cycle continues until the end of my lesson when we land and taxi off the runway. That’s when Martin becomes my husband again, and he kisses my forehead.

* * * * * * * * *

07/11/2009

tail-dragger

  1. We spotted this spiffy airplane getting fuel at a nearby airport. The owner (back) had to recruit two firemen (front) to help him push his plane. We’re not sure who he recruits to help with the polishing job. Every spot you see that’s silver has to be frequently polished on this plane.
  2. I think I made my first road kill last week: a gopher. On the runway during takeoff. With the “nose wheel” (front tire).
  3. Martin and I are doing “touch and goes” which is where you land the plane, then immediately take off.  They’re really a challenge.  We have to keep an eye out for deer on the runway, too.
  4. The aforementioned firemen arrived in this. That’s me and my cowboy hat in front: fire-fighting-helicopter
  5. When we’re about 20 feet from the ground and about to land, I get beyond nervous. My palms get all clammy, and I’m afraid of messing up. (This is not a good landing strategy.)
  6. Remember the motion sickness concerns I had? Well excellent news. I haven’t had a single problem being sick. It’s amazing. We can be dropping 500 feet a minute in a maneuver, and my stomach is okay. Turning left and right – no problem as long as I’m the pilot. However if Martin is trying to demonstrate a practice technique, my stomach kind of cartwheels. So yes – hope for all us queazy ones as long as we take the wheel!
  7. So who’s ready to go up with me? Okay, who’s ready to go up with me… as soon as I master landings!?

* * * * * * * * *

07/16/2009

We went to a Fly-In and dropped bowling balls and bags of flour from the plane along with a bunch of other pilots.

* * * * * * * * *

07/22/2009

Learned the difference between engines and motors.

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07/25/2008

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird… It’s a plane…

first solo flight

Oh my gosh. It’s me.

katie solo

By myself.

_IGP3868

Martin is on the ground with a radio in his hand.

solo landing

While I come back from my first solo flight.

exiting plane

And good news, I made it back down without a hitch.

(Well obviously, since I’m here telling you about it.)

I’m still in shock at the thought of flying without Martin by my side. Sometimes, I’m still shocked that he isn’t in the pilot’s seat when we are together because I am sitting there. I always call him “my pilot”. Now he needs a new nickname (and he is not keen on “my co-pilot”).

On the day of my solo flight, Martin and I got out of bed, quickly ate some breakfast, and went to pre-flight the plane. The air felt like silk. I knew it was the day Martin was going to get out of the plane and have me keep flying while he was on the ground. I like to say that he was so afraid of my flying that he jumped out of the plane on the first chance he got.

Really, though, he wanted to jump out two days before, and when I found out what he was planning, I panicked. It never occurred to me that I could be ready to fly without him. For years, I have told Martin that I cannot be a pilot because I do not do landings. It became a huge joke between us, and slowly, I stopped resisting. In fact, according to my log book, I have almost 100 landings under my belt with Martin at my side. Still, I was nervous. He agreed to stay… well at least stay one more time.

The next day, we had horrible crosswinds. That meant the wind was blowing over the runway at an angle instead of straight (or not at all). You have to do some fancy footwork and handwork to keep your plane on track. I didn’t have to think about doing my first solo flight because I knew no instructor would have a student solo in those kinds of winds. So I relaxed. I practiced with the idea in my mind that my instructor could not keep correcting me forever. It made me relax. It made me build confidence.

So when we woke up on the day pictured above and the air was smooth, I knew I needed to go off on my own. And more importantly, I was ready. I was excited.

Martin and I went and practiced a few maneuvers. We did two landings. Then Martin asked me to let him out of the plane.

Four pilots gathered outside to watch me take off. At the end of the runway, I whispered the phrase women in my family have been whispering for generations: Lord give me strength. I pushed the throttle in all the way, and the engine roared.

I zipped across the runway and lifted off. The plane felt weird without someone on my right. I wasn’t bumping any elbows, and the plane rose faster without the extra weight. I realized I wasn’t even scared. I followed the traffic pattern, watching my altitude, and really feeling like I knew what to do.

Ten minutes later, I landed and immediately took off again. “Great landing and great takeoff,” Martin radioed. You can probably guess how huge my smile was. Twice more, I came around and landed before coming to a full stop and exiting the runway.

Those four pilots cheered as I climbed from the plane. Martin gave me a huge hug, and so did the very pilot who taught Martin how to fly so long ago.

And all I could wonder was: why did I resist learning how to fly for so long?

katie solo

* * * * * * * * *

07/25/2009

Log my 100th landing as a student pilot.  Walking on air.

* * * * * * * * *

07/30/2009

The winds are calm enough for me to go out by myself again.  I’m getting comfortable with a lot of crosswinds on the runway, but it’s better to stick to solo flying when Martin doesn’t have to worry about me… or the airplane!

* * * * * * * * *

08/10/2009 – The Scariest Solo Flight EVER

I have another really exciting day of flying to share with all of you. Today is just a story – no pictures – because I was too overwhelmed to take pictures while flying (not surprising, right?) and too excited after landing.

So just picture this. Two enormous airliners lined up on the taxiway, ready to take off. Then picture me, all by myself, in a little four-seat Cessna airplane lined up right behind them.

You don’t have to scream or panic or anything. If I’d really thought about the magnitude of where I was on the taxiway the other day, you can bet I would have been freaking out enough for all of us. I felt like my entire plane could have been sucked into one of their engines. But I just held my brakes and waited.

Soon one commerical airliner took off.

Then the next.

I puttered up to the runway, and the man in the tower gave me the okay to take off… with a giant warning for quakes formed by those two airliners.

In the corner of my eye, I saw another large airplane taxiing up behind me. I knew how to take off. That part was easy. The problem was everything that followed…

My voice must have been wavering. When I was up in the air, everyone was talking so fast. The tower would say something to me, and I wouldn’t know what they wanted. I had to ask them to repeat most of the time. I heard other Cessnas, a Twin Star, airliners, and so many other planes (I don’t remember what they were). It took all I had to fly my course as the tower directed me.

To be honest, I felt like everyone could have been speaking German to me. Pilot talk is such a foreign thing. I have to translate it bit by bit. This learning isn’t a problem when I only have one other airplane to contend with at the gravel runway where I’m learning. They’re quite forgiving. The problem with airports so busy that they need towers to control the air traffic is that they can’t be so forgiving. There isn’t time.

With so many voices all around, I’m sad to report that I was still the only female. You all know that with only .025% of women carrying pilots’ licenses, I’ve never met a female pilot… and I’ve been hunting!

Around the flight pattern I went. Next to the runway, behind the runway, and finally lined right up with it. The tower kept instructing me the entire way. I landed. (Thank goodness!)

Except I was far from over. One of many requirements for earning a pilot’s license is flying in an airspace with a tower for three complete landings.

So I took off again. I felt a little more relaxed. The houses that slowly shrank as I rose into the sky gave me comfort – like they were part of the world I was comfortable with. Maybe ten minutes later, the tower granted me permission to land a second time. So I began my approach for a second landing. Another airliner was holding short; they were ready to enter the runway and take off.

But the tower made them wait. Can you imagine an airliner ever waiting for you? I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I knew I’d never see something like that again. The tower gave me top priority as a student pilot during their “airliner rush hour”.

Then they gave me priority the next time I took off and landed, too.

When I parked the plane and walked into the general aviation terminal for small planes, two women walked up to me.

“Good job!” Martin cheered as he approached. The women held out their hands. They both asked with eager voices, “Was that your first solo?”

“My first solo with the tower,” I said. Everyone was beaming. They shook my hand. They patted my back.

(That was when I realized how covered in sweat I was. I didn’t even realize how hot it was in the plane and never opened the vents. I didn’t want to miss a call from the tower, you know!)

The women said they were both flight instructors, too.

I froze.

Two great victories in one: my first solo with a tower and commercial airliners… and meeting female pilots for the first time ever. I never knew flying could feel so good.

* * * * * * * * *

08/10/2009

All I dream about is airplanes.  Sometimes I don’t want to dream about airplanes.  I want to go back to dreaming about something else, too.

small-airport-runway

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08/11/2009

It’s been nearly five hours since I landed, and I haven’t managed to successful think about anything but flying today. Would you like to know about the latest requirement I crossed off in my flying lessons?

Everyone says that I’ll never forget my first solo flight. They say it’s one of the greatest experiences in your entire life. Yet each time I land, I find myself falling more and more in love with flying.

Today was no exception.

I woke up early to put together the finishing details of my flight plan on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper – factoring details like wind direction and variations between magnetic headings and true headings. I never really thought about these things before. When you fly commercially, you just hop in the plane, watch a few movies, sip a few Cokes, and step out in the exact place where you want to be.

My first solo cross country flight of over 2 1/2 hours wasn’t so easy today. I wasn’t allowed to use GPS, and you can be sure I didn’t have access to fancy equipment like autopilot or radars!

All I had were the flight plan I’d just built to give myself compass directions and estimated times, airport directories, and maps. It was like flying years ago when pilots had nothing else to guide them.

I used the maps to get from point to point, studying rivers and mountains, roads and little towns. The airport directories told me which radio frequency to use as I landed in each little town. The trickiest part was factoring the wind into my flight. You know how the wind pushes your kite along with it? Wind does the same thing to a plane. You can drift right off course and have no idea unless you prepare with a flight plan before you go (or today you can use tools in your plane that Martin made me promise not to even touch unless I was lost).

And I swear it wasn’t scary at all.

women in aviation

Just kidding. I actually had a BLAST on my little adventure (although my face looks surprisingly red and blotchy!). Unlike my solo flight at a large commercial airport where I had to wait in line behind two commercial airliners, I even remembered to open the vents before my nerves and I sweated to death.

See… not so bad.

cross country flight

I did manage to snap a few photos of my journey for you all to see.

flying solo

edge of the mountains

small town America

My exams are coming up soon. I have to fly back to a city with a tower (yikes!) for my written test and on another date, do a practical test in the sky and around the airplane on the ground with an examiner one-on-one. Needless to say, I’m as nervous as heck.

But first? More solo flights, flights at night… and scariest of all: flights with funny goggles that completely block my vision out the windows.

Meanwhile, I’m off to take a nap, which probably means dreams of maps and wind. Does that ever happen to you? Whatever you spend the most time doing in one day is all you can dream about as you sleep?

* * * * * * * * *

08/11/2009  –  Notes on flying… and cookies

“Okay, we just had an engine failure,” Martin says.

I strain my ears and lean forward.  My eyes squint a little as I strain to listen.  The engine sounds perfectly normal to me.  So I look over at him with my nose crinkled in question.  “The engine seems fine to me.”  I’m wondering if I should be panicking for not even noticing we’re about to plummet to our death.  Here I am, just flying along like nothing is wrong.

A long, exasperated breath floods my headset.  “We’re trying to simulate a failure,” Martin answers.  His voice sounds tense, and I can tell he’s trying not to be annoyed.

The thing is my husband can notice mechanical problems that most women would never even notice.  Heck, maybe most men wouldn’t either.  Three weeks ago, he kept straining to hear this low whistling noise when we driving on the interstate to go grocery shopping in “the big city”.  He swore this awful whistling was coming from the front of the passenger’s side.  Could I hear it?  Why couldn’t I hear it?  I, of course, heard absolutely nothing wrong and wanted to continue to listen to our audiobook.  But I couldn’t.  We pulled over, and there was nothing wrong with the engine or the tire, or anything else.  In fact, we didn’t really have a problem at all.  A piece of tumbleweed was caught above the tire.

So he notices things I don’t.  And maybe I couldn’t hear that, but I sure as heck knew that our engine was still running when we were flying.  I could hear that.

That’s one of the problems with learning to fly with your spouse.

* * * * * * * * *

08/11/2009  –  Notes on flying… and cookies (ii)

Another lesson two weeks ago.

The first time I went flying at night, I got the first kiss from my soon-to-be husband.  The last time? Well let’s just say I got the opposite of a kiss.  (I much more prefer the kiss.)  Martin was mad.

I’m sort of liking the pilot’s seat now, which means I need three hours of night flying and ten landings as part of earning my license.  Landing a plane at night is like driving down the highway in the dark, without headlights – scary, confusing, and harder than heck to see.  It’s just another one of those things that experienced pilots make seem so easy.

Come fly with me at night and you will see it is not easy, and any experienced pilot like my husband might freak out just a tad.

But I will keep practicing.  I want those kisses back.

* * * * * * * * *

08/11/2009  –  Notes on flying… and cookies (iii)

I’m trying to figure out how to do 45-degree turns better.  They’re the kind of maneuver that could make you revisit your lunch in about five seconds.

The very basic idea is that you have to start in one position – say facing 180 degrees – and make a complete circle until you’re facing 180 degrees again.  Your wings must tip 45 degrees through the entire turn.  So those of you who understand physics (i.e. definitely not me), you can guess where the challenge is.  You have to maintain altitude.  It means I cannot let the plane descend 1,000 feet per minute like it wants to.  I cannot let a 500 feet per minute descent happen.  (You see where the returning lunch comes in, no?)  I practiced these turns over and over on Monday morning.  It takes so much arm strength that now it hurts to stir cookie dough.

You can laugh, but we’re on a crunch.  The pickings in the fridge and freezer are getting slim.  We’re eating a lot of oatmeal because we have a lot of oatmeal.  We’re eating a lot of black beans because… well you get the idea.  We have ONE last bag of chocolate chips – a luxury item you cannot find in Germany.  And if you come over tomorrow, you can share some of these amazing cookies with us.

But I must warn you: come after lunch.

* * * * * * * * *

08/17/2009

Can you fly in Germany?

Sadly, the answer is no.  While we have the lingo down (all pilots must be fluent in English), our licenses are completely invalid in Germany.  It turns out even Martin would have to study for several months just to earn the private pilot’s license in Europe (which is the license I’ve been working on all summer).  We could rent a plane and hire an instructor just to be able to touch the controls.  But with auto gas costing $9/gallon in Germany, we don’t see ourselves affording even a quick jump into the sky any time soon.

Are you sad about not flying in Germany?

Last year, it didn’t bother me a bit.  Martin was going crazy without flying, and I couldn’t understand.  Now I get it.  I can’t believe I feel nostalgic about the sound of a little airplane taking off.

So where do you put fuel in planes?

fueling a planeFuel goes in the wings.  Kinda seems strange, huh?  You have to climb a ladder to fuel this plane.

What’s the hardest thing about flying little planes when it comes to people who don’t fly?

As a pilot, you have to be really flexible with the weather.  Sometimes you could be delayed for days if you’re trying to fly somewhere.  Most people don’t understand this (and understandably) because we’re used to commercial flying or driving, which aren’t nearly as inhibited by weather.  Flying small planes requires so much study and observation of the weather.  You can’t just get in and go.  No thunderstorms, nothing that could cause ice to build on the plane, no hail…

Do you have to keep your license current somehow?

Yes.  If you don’t fly for several months, you have to do a number of practice flights before you can have passengers.  You also have to have a flight instructor sign you off every two years regardless of how often you fly.  It’s all about safety and making sure you know what you’re doing up there.

You’ve kind of mentioned this before, but did you have any interest in flying before you met Martin?

Being in a small airplane never crossed my mind before I met Martin, let alone learning how to fly.  Going up in a hot air balloon was on my list of things to try one day.  I thought of helicopters, too, but never airplanes.  I think it’s because I’d been in a commercial airplane, so I focused on the types of things I hadn’t tried.  (And boy was I wrong – small airplanes are nothing like commercial planes.  Small planes are so much fun!)  It’s all pretty interesting to think of how we grow and develop through our relationship with others.  I also never expected to live in Berlin, yet here we go.

* * * * * * * * *

08/21/2009

Today is one of those days where you realize life will never be the same.  I wake up thinking about weather – it’s not just temperature I think about.  What’s the height of the clouds?  What kind of clouds?  How strong is the wind?  From which direction?

Martin plants an enormous kiss on my left cheek as I describe it to him, and I know he thinks about the exact same thing every single morning.

* * * * * * * * *

8/26/2009

I had to tell a man my weight.  As a girl, I’m supposed to be secretive about this stuff.  As a person climbing into a small plane thats close to maximum weight and considering the center of balance, my weight makes all the difference in a safe flight.  Weird.  (And it’s even weirder not being in the pilot’s seat.  Wah for the back seat!  haha.)

* * * * * * * * *

09/03/2009

Learning how to fly isn’t a subject that comes naturally to me. It involves so much physics and mechanics, and my mind cannot grasp these concepts as quickly as, say, Martin.  Most women can’t because on average, men are more interested in engines and airplanes than women.  I’m sure that’s why there are so few females in aviation.  I don’t know about what you did, but you can bet that once I met the science requirements for college, I was done.  Done!  (bleck!)

The last two weeks, Martin and I have been doing so much flying and documenting (my skills and flights, Martin’s certifications, the airplane’s certifications…).  I can’t even tell you when the last time was that I slept through an entire night without solving some sort of flying procedure in my dreams.

I feel so technical.  I feel like my entire self is in the clouds – not in the dazy, doffy way – it’s more like the sky is feeling like home. Maybe it’s part of the reason I love living in the country mountains so much.

navion

The final whirlwind of flying:

Saturday:  I took a 2 1/2 hour written exam.  (We had to fly 1 1/3 hours to get to the FAA approved test center.)  Martin and an iPod waited in the lobby of the little general aviation airport while I took the test.  Some questions were easy like identifying parts of the wings.  Other questions were enormous math problems based on maps like the one over Dallas Fort Worth.  This test was the easy part after weeks of prep work – I aced it!

Sunday:  Out sick.  No flying.  Poor studying.  Just needing to come to terms with the stress and bad colds that have hit our house.

Monday: A second solo cross country flight.  I had to work with two (TWO!) different control towers at larger airports.  I didn’t get stuck in “airliner rush hour” like my last solo tower experience… I learned to relax on the radio.

Our week has been an absolute whirlwind.  The last two weeks have been the make or break point.  I found myself wanting to earn a pilot’s license more than anything.  And you know what?  For the first time, I didn’t want it for anyone except just ME.  I didn’t want to pass my tests to please my family or my airplane-loving husband, and I didn’t want to pass just to be the “safety backup” in case of an emergency in the air.  I wanted to be Katie, The Pilot.  haha!

Tuesday: Moved out of the Tire House after a long morning of flying around the valley, practicing difficult flight maneuvers.  Yep – Sept 1 marked our second temporary return to living in a hangar.  I guess if I’m dreaming of airplanes, I might as well sleep twenty feet from one.  That way, I even get the airplane smell.  We also spent about three hours preparing “homework” and flight plans for my second exam…

Wednesday:  Flew 1 1/3 hours to take a practical exam.  The very basics of my exam:  2 1/2 hour one-on-one questions from an examiner, 1 1/2 hour flight exam, and 30-minute review of why I made decisions I did, where I wasn’t knowledgeable, and ways I impressed the examiner (like my TOWER radio work!  Oh wow.)  Martin sat in with us during the final review.  I had no idea if I passed or not.  I’d done so many things very well, but I was not perfect.  I kept thinking, “One mistake.  That’s all it takes.”  The test wasn’t like a grade – either you can do what you need to be a proficient pilot or you can’t.

Then after much discussion about my entire test performance, the examiner reached out his hand.  “Congratulations, Katie.  I’m going to give you your private pilot’s license.”

You know how I responded?  Totally like a girl!  I had tears in my eyes.

I guess I can do that, right?  After all (insert huge grin, walking-on-air, feeling)… I am a pilot now.

* * * * * * * * *

09/03/2009

We’re going flying every chance we can get.  So instead of driving places to say goodbye, we fly there.  We leave for Germany in one week.

two pilots

Martin flies there; I fly back.  I’m kind of embarassed to admit that I don’t like having him in the pilot’s seat as much as I used to.  I love sitting there!  Even more, though, I love seeing him light up as he takes the controls.  My husband spent the entire summer in the passenger’s seat for me.  What a beautiful gift.

* * * * * * * * *

09/10/2009

We’re putting our bags in the overhead compartments on the first commercial airplane that will take us to Berlin.

“Do you want the window?” Martin asks, gesturing at our two seats.  We’re both so tired.  I usually shrug and let him have the seat.  He loves the window.  Except this time, I didn’t quite give in when he asked if I wanted the window seat.

“Yes!” I squealed, diving out of the aisle and into our seats.  Martin didn’t say anything.  He didn’t comment about how I was only interested in the window so I could have something to lean on.  He just let me slip in first.

The airplane taxied down the runway, and my face was glued to the window.  I just couldn’t help it.  It’s not like we had a beautiful view or anything to look out at. Oh no. All you could see was the tarmac. And it was amazing, just absolutely amazing! I mean, there I was, sitting in an enormous commercial airplane on the exact same taxiway to the same runway I’d been using for so much of my flight training with a control tower.

I knew so much about that airport, and I actually found myself reporting the progress to Martin. “We’re taxiing on Charlie.” “We’re going to take off on Runway 3-1.” “We’re going so fast… you never let me taxi this fast.” Martin responded, “These guys have more flight hours than you, Katie.” I wrinkled my nose, but I did not think to turn from the window in case I’d miss something really cool. I was always getting in trouble for taxiing too fast!

Then we were cleared to take off.  Taking off was amazing. I felt like we were blasting off in a rocket ship.  The plane was so big and powerful, and it wasn’t even a very big commercial plane!  All of a sudden, we were far above the mountains.  My home was far below.  It would have taken at least 20 minutes for me to fly that high; it took the airliner seconds.

Martin just grinned. “You get it now, don’t you?” he whispered. I nodded.  Martin had always thought takeoffs and landings were the coolest part of our entire journey.  I looked out the window one last time and smiled.  My throat felt tight. Is this what being a pilot is all about?

* * * * * * * * *

09/14/2009

I’m biking across the city of Berlin.  The wind is blowing on my face, and I start to think about winds aloft.  I slow down to look around the trees and apartment buildings around me.  I need to study the clouds.

Drats, I think to myself.  The sky is overcast.  That’s not a problem except that the cloud level is too low to fly over the city.  But they’re calm.  It isn’t raining.  I bet I wouldn’t have a lot of carburetor icing problems.  Oh how I miss flying.

(Images by Making This Home)