My Flying Lesson
My Fear of Flying
I have a fear of flying. There are certain "key moments" of fear when I fly. Probably the first is when the flight attendant closes and locks the door after the last person boards. Then I'm thinking "Now I'm doomed — there's no escape!”
The second moment is when we've taxied over to the start of the runway, and the pilot is awaiting clearance to take off: I visualize the wheels of the plane, straining to start rolling forward, and then they DO start! Then comes the adrenaline rush as we take off — my knuckles are white because of my death grip on the arm rests.
"Rough Air" Ahead
But nothing else has quite the fear factor as that moment when the pilot comes on the public address system and warns the passengers that onboard radar shows some "rough air" ahead, and that everyone should remain seated and fasten their seat belts. If I think I detect a certain grimness in his voice, multiply that fear by two.
Bad Flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles
I remember what I considered especially bad flights. For example, I was once on an eleven-hour Hong Kong to Los Angeles flight. The first half of the flight was uneventful, and even I relax after a while if a flight is turbulence-free. But then we experienced some very rough turbulence — you know, plastic ware bouncing on your tray table. We were about half-way across the Pacific, as shown by the little airplane icon on the video screen in the seat back. This was the part of the North Pacific where there doesn't seem to be any land masses, even islands, for a thousand miles in every direction. I'm thinking "Oh, great — if we crash here, it's just us and the ocean." This frightening (to me) turbulence continued unabated for the rest of the trip — about five hours.
When I finally got off the plane, I was determined to speak to the pilot, and waited for the crew to leave the plane. I spotted the pilot, and demanded to know why we'd flown through five hours of heavy turbulence. He said "Well, we were flying in the Jetstream, which happened to be unusually low in altitude." I said "Couldn't you have gained altitude and flown above it?" He said "No. You noticed the plane was full? It was too heavy to fly at that height."
Cessna 150M Commuter
Introductory Flying Lesson
But in spite of my fear, I once took a flying lesson. Yep, me, the person afraid of flying. I saw this ad for an introductory flying lesson at Torrance Municipal Airport, a regional airport in Los Angeles County. I showed up there on my lunch hour. The reason I decided to take the flying lesson is because I've always believed in challenging my fears. The young instructor gave me a basic "ground school” lecture in a classroom. Then we went out to look at the plane, a two-seat Cessna 150. He showed me how to check the aerodynamic surfaces and the fuel supply. Then he invited me to climb into the plane. I walked to the right side door, and he said "Oh no, get in the left-side seat." I said "Isn't that the pilot's side?" "Yes," he said, "and you're the pilot." I started thinking that I didn't like how this seemed to be shaping up! "Surely you don't expect me to take off, do you?" To my relief, he said "No, I just want you to taxi over to the takeoff point." With the engine started, and the propeller whirring, I used the steering yoke to rather clumsily maneuver the plane to the takeoff point.
Torrance, California Municipal Airport
The pilot quickly got us up and heading westward toward the Pacific Ocean, and leveled off at 4000 feet. I nervously asked him if we were in the airspace of the hundreds of jets which take off and land each day at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). He said “no, at this location they fly above 10,000 feet.” I give a few nervous glances upward. "OK," says the instructor, “I'm changing control to your side. Watch the artificial horizon control and keep us level." I do that. The coast slips behind and we are heading out over the Pacific.
After a minute or so, he says "you know, if you keep heading west, we'll run out of gas, and we'll have to ditch in the ocean. I THINK I have life jackets in the back. “ I said "I sense you want me to try a turn." He enthusiastically shakes his head yes, and offers no review of the turning instruction he gave me earlier — just a head shake. Here, indeed, was a man with faith in his fellow man.
Cessna 150M C-GEYW Instrument Panel
Turning is more complex than with a car — after all, you are moving in three dimensions instead of two. As I recall, to execute a right turn, you have to turn the steering yoke to the right (this changes the position of the ailerons — movable flaps on the trailing edges of the wings. The right aileron will turn up, and the left one down.) You also have to press the right rudder pedal (there is a left and right rudder pedal on the floor) causing the rudder (a vertical flap on the tail fin) to move right. Finally, there may be a tendency to lose altitude at this point, so you may have to pull the steering yoke back. This causes the elevators (horizontal flaps in the small winglets in the tail) to go down, giving the plane more lift. All this starts you turning — you have to unwind these pilot actions to stop turning. Meanwhile, you have to keep an eye on the "artificial horizon" gauge on the control panel, to make sure you're flying level — it can be hard to tell if you're flying level just by looking out the windows.
If you were afraid of flying, would you take a flying lesson in an attempt to conquer that Fear?
Suffice it to say, I managed to turn right, and was flying north parallel to the coast. After a minute or two, the instructor says "If you keep flying north, you're going to get in the way of the big jets flying near LAX." I said "my inner consciousness tells me you want me to do a U-turn." Enthusiastic positive head shake from instructor.
After we were headed back south, at my request, I then flew over the 1930s-era cruise ship Queen Mary which is permanently docked in Long Beach as a hotel, museum, and entertainment facility. After that, I flew back to the airstrip and the pilot landed the airplane. Except for the usual rush on takeoff, I realized I hadn't been scared during the entire flight —- I don't know why.
Oklahoma State University Flying Aggies Cessna 150
Have you ever piloted a private (non-commercial) aircraft?
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Update: October 9, 2012
HubPages replaced the HubNugget accolade with the Rising Star accolade on October 9, 2012.
I conquered my fear by facing it head-on. I no longer have a fear of flying.