Go Back Three Spaces - Learning to Fly

Reads: 431  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

My experience of learning to fly

Go Back Three Spaces.


There are three phases to the Learning to Fly game. There’s the “Wow, isn’t this cool?” happy phase, there’s the “Look at me, I can solo!” delighted phase, there’s the “Almost there!” excitement phase, there’s the “how much longer?” slightly exasperated phase, there’s the “Can someone tell me what I need to do to get to the finish line?” much more exasperated phase, (not to be confused with the “Hey, weren’t there only thought there were three phases” phase) And finally the “Can we just get to the FAA test?” irritated phase. Oh, and, one assumes, the “Finally!” final phase.


To start the game, layout the board, set phase to “Happy”, pick a plane, a flight instructor (CFI) and attitude. Shuffle the ‘Life Happens’ cards and set them down next to the Wheel of Attitude. Stack up 5 chips in the Poor Excuses pile. Set ego to zero and confidence to 10. Then start playing (and paying)


CFI: Pick the Wizened Old Flight Instructor. Strengths include ability to remain calm when you’re careering off the runway, doesn’t suddenly quit as soon as they’ve gained enough hours for a “proper job” and a willingness to fly in any weather. Weakness include unclear communication method (Email? Phone? Chalk Board?), nodding off when performing flight maneuvers and a willingness to fly in any weather.


Plane: Obviously, to save dollars, choose the Cessna 152. (Recommend taking Yoga classes beforehand)


Attitude: Set attitude to “Sure! Why not? It should be fun.”


The game starts. Shake the lesson dice and advance a few spaces and land on “taxiing”. Simple enough, taxiing shouldn’t be taxing. Right foot down, go right, left foot down, go left. It’s all simple until you panic and instinctively do the opposite, creating a large trench in the grass next to the taxiway. Blame this un-instinctive instinct on skiing (Where the opposite is true). Take two chips from the Poor Excuses pile.


Land on Online Training. The online guides, Perky and Perkier guide you through all you need to know and understand. At the end of each section is a test. The negative beep received each time an answer is wrong causes you to develop a nervous tick. This makes you think really, really hard before committing to any answer. Set attitude to “Overly Cautious”


Excitedly roll the dice. Land on “landings”. Spend lesson after lesson, hour after hour going around and around the traffic pattern, butchering landing after landing. Attitude gets set to “I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to land. What if I’m not capable of doing this? I know other people who have problems navigating a sentence, and they can land. Why not me? What’s wrong with me?” Much of this attitude takes place in the shower where you stand as the whole room fogs up (Advection fog?) until the shower runs cold. Subtract 10 confidence points. The good news is that you’re now so busy worrying about landings that you’ve completely forgotten to worry about taxing and can now do that with aplomb. Add 5 ego points.


Play a Life Happens card and suddenly you know how to land. Realize that the main technique is keeping the plane off the runway for a long as possible. Why had no one told you this? Oh, this is exactly what the flight instructor told you, day one, minute one. For some reason you wanted to flare the plane like Concorde piloted by a French pilot. (Who, we know, have more flare than British pilots) First lesson learned, listen to your flight instructor not your pre-conceived head. You can now land. Attitude set to “Oh yeah! Oh yeah!” Add 20 ego points.


Excitedly draw another Life Happens card and land on the Weight and Balance square. While casually working on the W&B for the Cessna 152, realize that you either need to replace your flight instructor with a suitably qualified rabbit or reduce the amount of fuel in the plane to the point where all the lessons are just taxiing. It’s time to change planes. Your flight instructor assures you that there’s no difference between a 152 and a 172N. There is. Go back three spaces.


Shake the lesson dice and advance a few spaces. Gingerly reach for a Life Happens card. All the 172Ns are grounded due to oil temperature issues. Move on up to the 172S, which is kind of what you were banking on flying anyway, plus you don’t have to worry about carb heat, go back only one space, climb up the ‘flying a real plane now’ ladder. Set attitude to Content.


Throw the lesson dice, advance two spaces and land on Solo. Fly around the pattern making landings that you could have only have dreamt about a few weeks before. Video the event and post it on Facebook. Refresh the page 50 times a second waiting for all the adoration to pile in. Add 50 ego points. Set attitude to smug. Set other people’s view of you to ‘quite annoying’.


Eagerly grab another Life Happens card. Your flight instructor has found another gig and suddenly quits. Lose 20 confidence points and go back 5 spaces. Time to pick another instructor. Decide to go with one who’s more specific and more regimented. One who will whip you into shape for the flying test. Have first lesson with new flight instructor. New instructor is overly pedantic, too procedural and has a different way of doing, well, everything. Zero out ego points, set confidence points to minus twenty and go back two months.


Work like crazy for the FAA knowledge test. Prevaricate over spending a whopping $2 on an app that will help immensely and ignore that you’re burning through a hundred times as much each lesson. Realize that getting the answer wrong helps you remember better than getting the answer right. Self-reflect. Advance two spaces.


Feel fully confident and full of “I got this” going for knowledge test as you’re consistently getting 90% on the training tests. Walk out with an 88% and a reduced confidence level of 20. But you passed. But you passed! Add 20 points back to confidence. Realize that the knowledge test pulls from a known list of 600 questions. Realize that the oral section for the flying test is a bottomless pit of interrogation. Realize you can’t remember anything that Perky and Perkier have taught you. You eagerly finished the online course months ago. Confidence level now expressed with negative exponents.


Buy the FAA handbooks. Be amazed that they’re useful with great diagrams and are written in English and don’t contain phrases such as “Except as provided by subpart (b) notwithstanding paragraph (a) in accordance with section [some weird symbol] 61.121-part (d) subpart (s) with a dash of part, I want to say nine? and a small, plump slice of section (f). pursuant to part (z).” In viewing You-Tube you discover Cyndy Hollman, goddess of explaining things simply, and watch everything. Twice. Earn 90 Knowledge points. Set attitude to “I think that I may be able to do this”.


Enter the “Are we there yet?” phase. This is where you notice that you didn’t fully unfold the gameboard, there’re many more spaces before you get to the end. Life becomes all about flying. You’re so occupied; read, watch, fly, you stop doing the not so important things; eat, sleep, breathe. Each roll of the dice isn’t advancing you any spaces. Try to work out new and innovative ways to ask your flight instructor “what do I need to do to get to the finish line?” You feel stuck and can’t find a way out. After an inordinate amount of dice rolling and booking ad hoc lessons you finally roll an “Advance 0.001 space” and get permission to schedule the end of course ride. Almost there!


Spin the Randomly Lose a Skill wheel. During a solo flight something that came so naturally has suddenly gone out the window with a good deal of your confidence as you bounce, float and balloon down/off the runway. Confidence points are down. That whooshing sound is your ego level dropping at way more than 20 feet per minute. Book more lessons. You do not have the confidence to tell the instructor how bad your landings are, you use words such as “polishing” and “tuning” and avoid phrases such as “nail-biting” and “pant-changing”. Realize that you’ve just forgotten the basics, such as looking down the runway, ailerons into the wind, rudder down the runway. Gradually confidence improves but your ego is still in hiding.


Getting ready for the end of course is more intensive and time consuming than any previous phase. Life is what happens to other people, you’re too busy to notice. Your only joy in life is that little content beam that Cyndy Hollman gives when she’s finished a lesson. Eventually it’s time for the end of course. Warily take another Life Happens card. A new Chief Flight Instructor. The previous one you had some rapport with, while this one has all the bedside manner of an abandoned brick. Your end of course appears to be a mounting pile of criticism. You’re not keeping altitude, you’re not flying the pattern correctly, you’re not doing the power off stalls correctly, your power on stalls suck, who on earth taught you to do S-turns? Right Rudder! The list goes on. After you complete the final landing (A soft field landing where you pulled a wheelie down the runway for so long that Evel Knievel threatened to sue. The Brick says the landing was way too fast; the landing should have been at a walking pace) you’re in such a jelly state that you can’t work out your flying time as it involves subtracting 4 from 1. The judgmental Brick says that you’ve passed the end of course, but that you’ll need some more “tuning” before the FAA test. Motivation points stop being expressed numerically and are replaced with a picture of a one-eyed frog with an enormous hangover limping on crutches. Ego points have been delisted.


Feeling at an all-time low, you spin the wheel of “should I just quit?” You already know the answer. Book more lessons. Take a Life Happens card. It says “Get a perspective”. Decide to back off your intensive regime of Flying, Books and Cyndy and make time for sociable activities, such as brushing teeth and talking to real people.


A few more rolls of the dice and you land on FAA test. You can’t believe that it’s finally arrived! Well, it’s not actually here yet, as it needs to be scheduled. But you’ve been given the green light to book it, and that’s progress. Confidence points are replaced with a picture of an excited hamster. As life would have it all the FAA examiners are booked up for a few weeks, but this is OK, it gives more polish time and more time with Cyndy’s content smile. Also, this is more time to work on your cross-country flight plan. This becomes an elaborate work of art, planning the route, backup airports and taking into account changing magnetic variations, winds aloft, on route weather and anything else on the planet that the examiner may or may not ask about.


Finally, the day is here for your FAA test! Well, not actually the day, but the day before. You’re up early so that you’re ready to get up early on the day of the FAA test, although you’re not going to get a wink of sleep. Working on logistics you decide that although the airport that you’re flying into to meet the examiner consists of a runway and two sheds, you’ll message her to be super crystal clear which shed to meet at. You’re somewhat dumbstruck or numb struck to receive the following “Hi! I just picked up a corporate flight, so unfortunately, I’m unable to work with you tomorrow. But there’s a very good chance I’ll be available this Thursday. Will that work for you? Apologies for the late change, lots of corporate trips lately to sunny places”. The neighbors call the police due to all the screaming. You wonder how much damage you did by banging your head against the wall. subtract 50 knowledge points. Realize that although your FAA test is the most important thing on the planet to you, to others it’s just another day.


Work with the flight school and get a plane booked for Thursday.  Spend most of Monday looking out of the window at the clear blue sky wishing that you could be in it.


Finally. It’s FAA test day! Well, not actually the day, but the day before. Keep checking the weather forecast which is getting updated about 50 times a second. Will the clouds be too low? Will the wind be too high? Will there be enough visibility? The answer is a mixture of Yes, No and Maybe, depending on how often you refresh the internet browser, which is often. Go to sleep knowing that you’ll not be able to do the FAA test.


Finally! It’s FAA test day! The actual day, and the weather is actually OK! Drive to the flight school assuming that your flight instructor will not sign you off to fly, but he does. Flying to the examiner, you can fly through controlled airspace or go around. Confidence boosts as you’re cleared to transition through controlled airspace on route to Examination Airport. Set confidence to Flying Frog. Confidence takes a slight knock as you land slightly off-center. The fact that you ignored the cruise and pre-landing checklists strikes as remiss. Taxi with your flying mantra going around your head “checklist, altitude, checklist, announcements, checklist, instruments”. Set confidence to slightly concerned Flying Squirrel.


Finally! It’s FAA test! Work through the paperwork and everything is checked and cross-checked, then the FAA test has started! Try to resist the urge to blurt out the answer to everything. Your head is filled with a million acronyms as you AVIATE around the FLAMING TOMATOES working as a TEAM taking CARE to show that I’M SAFE. Or something. Anyway, it all goes pretty well, so well that you’ve passed the oral potion of the test. Thank angel Cyndy. Now it’s time for the flying portion of the test. Exciting. Fling open the door and there’s nothing but clouds. The weather has come and you’re not able to complete the practical test. Set Disappointment to 80%.


The weather is good enough to fly back to base, so you do that, dodging clouds and obstacles along the way. Your flight instructor texts to ask how the oral portion of the FAA test went. Respond “On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being that they bathed you in milk and carried you about on a bed of feathers, 4.8.” Although it’s more likely 4.6. Set confidence to Flying bat. Ego points to 90%.


In desperation for the practical test you’re not rolling the dice, it’s closer to embedding them in the wall. Eventually you roll/embed the correct combination of available plane, passable weather and examiner timeslot. You can now do the final part of your FAA test. The fly in a plane part. With a bit of cross-country (awesome), a quick redirect (ace), a slight amount of navigation (stellar), slow flight (also ace), 45 degree turns (left one not so good, right one better), emergency decent (ok?), S-turns (erm, might be losing it here), turns around a point (back to great), emergency landing (not too hot on the checklist), go around, a short field landing (in a bit fast, but saved it), a slip (more slip!) into a soft field landing (more threatened litigation from Evel Knievel) and a bit of talking about lack of rudder control and done.  You’ve reached to finish line. You’ve passed. Rather than the anticipated running naked up and down the runway screaming, you just sit there, exhausted.


Fly back to home base. Everyone is super pleased that you passed the test and want your picture and are patting you on the back. Drive home, the house is empty. Drop all your bags. Scream “Yeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!! Yeeeesssss!!!!!!!!!!!!”. Put clothes back on.


End of game.

Submitted: December 27, 2017

© Copyright 2021 Colin Martin. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Memoir Short Stories

Other Content by Colin Martin