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Flying: the Good Navigator
How to be a good Navigator in a Light Aircraft
I learned that on my first flight. First of all, you have to love flying. Just to climb into a home-built aircraft, like my boyfriend's RV-8 takes some courage. Don't get me wrong, I've known him since kindergarten...I trust him with my life. But it was the smallest plane I've ever flown in and I knew undoubtedly it was going to be the thrill of my life. Once I took that first ride, there was no turning back. My life would be changed forever. He was going to give me my own wings that would never be satisfied with just flying in a commercial jet again. I was going to touch the sky for the first time in my life. We were going to play in the clouds. We would take off and land when we wanted to, go where we wanted to go and without a set agenda. Just the two of us.
The first flight was all I dreamed it would be and more. Racing through the sky at incredible speeds - climbing faster than I ever had without a net. Rolling and tumbling through the air and doing a low pass through the field at the Flying Circus. We went out to Harper's Ferry to see from the sky one of the prettiest places I had driven to many many times in my life. We toured the Shenandoah Valley and civil war battlefields. I was totally free for the first time in my life and I never wanted to come back down. But reality has a way of finding you even when you are playing hide and seek in the puffy white clouds. Eventually we had to land in the shortest time I've ever come from the sky to the ground. Even the taxiing was a marvel; to getting out of the plane, pulling it into the hangar and driving away. What a miracle! Climbing into your plane and flying into the clouds on any beautiful day. What a blessed gift.
After a couple of flights, I learned I had jobs to do on the flight...
· I was my Aviator’s second set of eyes. He could learn to rely on me to “have his six”. I learned that meant to “watch his back” and I liked what that meant. In the world, on the ground, we looked out for each other – now in the air, it was even more important. One day it could save our lives.
· I had to watch for birds. A bird sucked into the engine or hitting the propeller or wing can really mess up our day. One day a flock of seagulls landed on the runway just as we were about to land on a small strip on Tangier Island, VA. We had to abort the landing after flying just low enough to scare them away and come in for a second attempt. The second time was a sweet landing. On the way back we followed a river, and kinda low at that - I was really watching for birds then… As well as sailboat masts, treetops, and extra large poles in the area or a light house. Luckily I don't think we were as low as I felt, it did give me an extra rush of adrenaline though!
· Telling the pilot where a threat may be was like learning to look at the world as if our plane was a clock. The object had a position on a clock as if the nose of the plane was at 12 and the tail was 6. The wings are at three and nine. And then I had to give it an altitude – high, low or at our altitude. Or I could say off the left wing or right wing. I still can’t get the port and starboard thing right, and I know that’s like the ship terminology…I stick to the clock theory.
· I also watched for other aircraft; any other traffic in the sky in any direction including what might be above or below us because we might not see them or they may not see us.
· I've also become the official photographer – which is so fun through the loops – I always try to get a picture looking straight down at the ground. Hint, when taking pictures in the bubble of a plane; turn off the flash, you can only take so many pictures of clouds, and the pilot loves when you get pictures of the instrument panel in the picture or a reflection of them in the picture so that when you are looking back he can see his altitude, speed or the GPS screen.
· I’m the navigator who looks through the maps to try to find out where we are when we are taking long trips and spotting key landmarks, trying not to miss any of the key sights from the air. When we fly in formation, I seem to be the one looking at everything else when the pilot has his eyes trained on the other plane to maintain his distance to the lead.
The more I fly the more fun I have. I'm thinking about getting my license now...it would be for a Cessna though I think. I would fly lower and slower and I’d want to take all my friends on trips. For the fun thrill rides, I’ll be a passenger.
I never thought in a million years that flying would be such a big part of my life. We fly away now just for lunch or an afternoon of shopping or to stay a few nights in a quaint town with a B&B. My Angel shares his wings with me and the freedom he feels to take off and see the world from a new point of view. So many gifts he gives me, but when he gave me the sky, I knew he’d be the one who could teach my fragile heart how to fly for the first time.
Rob and I just love to fly. It's one of those things that we feel so blessed to share - and Rob has built 2 aircraft and restored 1...so far. We still have some years left and he has many dreams both in the air and in the sky... I thank the Goddess for him and the special gift he's brought into my life everyday. He really has given me back my wings, in more ways than one. Lovingly, Erin