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Sunday, July 23, 2017

(10) I FLOUNDERED INTO THE AIR WITH MY RIGHT WING DRUNKENLY BANKED.


     “Why is it that sometimes you file a flight plan and sometimes you don’t?” I asked Ed as we climbed into his Tri-Pacer and fastened our seatbelts.  Flying up to Waterville to see Ted play football was easier than driving, I had to admit, but I was still far from relaxed about Ed’s hobby.
      “It depends on how far we’re going, usually.  If we’re just on a sightseeing tour I don’t bother, but when we have a specific destination and intend to stick to a definite course, I file a flight plan.  That way, if anything goes wrong, they’ll know where we are.”
    “And who we were,” I said gloomily.
     We were no sooner aloft than I was sure I smelled something burning.  Ed laughed and told me not to worry, it was just the engine heating up.
    “The last time I smelled something like that, our boat was on fire.”
     “It’ll go away in a few minutes.”  A few gray hairs later, it did.
     I found myself becoming interested in this flying racket.  I asked questions and I studied the chart, and once I even helped.  We were nearing Lebanon, Ed thought, but so far he hadn’t been able to correlate anything on the terrain below us with our probable position on the chart.
     “How about that lake down on our right, the one that’s shaped like a boot? Doesn’t that look like this lake on the chart?”
   “Could be.  It’s hard to tell, though.  Everything looks like everything else up here.”
     “Yes, but look at that other little lake right near it, that arrow-shaped one.  See, honey?  This one on the chart looks like an arrow, too.”
     “You’re right,” he said.  “That’s exactly the way you’re supposed to figure out where you are.  You try to make the puzzle on the chart match the puzzle on the ground.”
     As we flew over Concord, Ed asked the man on the radio how the weather was at Montpelier.           
     “Only a thousand feet—I don’t see how we could be that low.”
     “He said `one zero thousand,’” I said.  “Wouldn’t that mean ten thousand, maybe?”
    Ed looked at me, then thumped me on the back.  “That’s just what he means.  They always say `one zero thousand’ instead of `ten thousand’.  Good for you!”
     I could see I was going to enjoy Ed’s flying hobby more than boating.  On the boat my loving spouse was more apt to yell at me than tell me how bright I was.  Perhaps the salt water had a corrosive effect on my brain.
     On our next flight, we took a scenic tour over Cohasset and Scituate, and Ed gave me more pointers on the art of flying.  I still get butterflies when he lets me take the controls, but I'm beginning to think a few lessons someday might be fun.                                                                                          October 13, 1962                                                                                                                                            We slept on the boat last night.    Ed got up at 7:30, stuck his nose out and said, "Brrr, it's freezing!  Let's go home."
      "What do you want to go home for?  We just got here."
      "Great day for flying," he said.
      We argued ("I want to go home."  "I want to stay here."), but in the end I gave in, as I always do once a year on Edward's birthday.  We began the depressing chore of emptying bureaus and lockers.  Ed said we’d be back, but I knew better.  Goodbye, dear boat.  Sob.
      But there will be other summers, and fall isn’t a bad season, what with Ted’s football games at Colby and hot dogs and foliage.  We stopped at the house to stow our boating gear and then drove to the airport. 
November 20, 1962
Fort Lauderdale
       Ed and I embarked on a four-hour flying jaunt with Ted.  I now have complete confidence in him and feel as relaxed as I do when we're in a car.  I didn’t even quiver when Ted said as we took off from the airport, “I still haven’t figured out exactly how to get to Marathon—guess I’ll just head south and hope we don’t hit Cuba.”
     We flew to Key West, where we landed and refueled, then cruised up the west coast toward the Thousand Islands.  Ted skimmed low over this desolate territory, inhabited only by countless long-legged white birds that looked like herons.  We continued on to Naples, where I recalled nearby Coral Gables and the house had Mom rented, so baby Kathie and I would have a place to stay back in 1940 when I thought I wanted a divorce. The baby, now an independent young woman of twenty, was very glad I didn’t separate her from her daddy.
                                               BABY KATHIE RESTORED TO DADDY'S ARMS                                                                                                                                                                                                         December 15, 1962                                                                                                                                         We flew to the Cape to deliver Grandpa and Tina’s Christmas presents.  Ed had trouble getting the engine started, but after much priming and coaxing, managed.  As we were taking off, he said, “It’s hard to start the thing in cold weather, but once it starts, it usually keeps going.”
      Why couldn’t we just mail our packages, I asked myself, the way other people did?                              “All I want to do is learn to land the thing in an emergency,” I explained to Bruce Pronk as he took me aloft for my first formal flying lesson.  Within half an hour I was hooked.  What a wonderful feeling it was to land the Tri-Pacer myself, to discover how obediently it would turn, glide, or climb when I followed Bruce’s directions.  How exciting it was to be learning something again, to shake the mothballs from my brain and set it to thinking.
      When I described my lesson to Ed, he noted with a lift of his eyebrows that the Tri-Pacer had suddenly become “our plane.”                                                                                                                        My husband gave me his blessing and his bible, Kershner’s Pilot’s Flight Manual.  While I was tossing a salad with my free hand, I read aloud to him a passage that tickled me about the turn-and-bank indicator:  “One of the most valuable maneuvers in coping with bad weather is the one-hundred-eighty-degree turn, or `getting the hell out of there.’”  
      A pair of arms slipped around my waist and a voice addressed the back of my neck. “I love you,” Ed said, giving me a squeeze, “You three-hundred-and-sixty-five-degree person, you.”
      “Three hundred and sixty-five degrees?”
      “Okay, three hundred-sixty.  You’re learning.”
      A 180-degree turn put me in a better position for continuing this conversation, a maneuver I accomplished with maximum (110 percent) dexterity.                                                            

      Ed invited me to come along and kibitz while he had an instrument-flying lesson.  He had told me a great deal about a Comanche he’d been using for the last couple of weeks, describing its retractable gear, propeller control, and fuel system, but neglecting to tell me one interesting detail I discovered myself.  After I climbed in, my eyes fell on a framed document.  The name Malley attracted my attention, and when I read the words “Registration Certificate,” I put two and two together
     All I said was “Ohhhhh?”  That was enough.
     “Huh?” Ed said, looking at the certificate with a guilty small-boy expression. “You mean the registration?”  I could see he hoped I meant something else, like a run in my nylons, maybe.
      “Well, I was gonna tell you,” he said finally, “but I wanted you to see the plane first. Gee, aren’t you the smart one to figure it out!  Boy, leave it to you to catch on right away.  Who else would look at a little paper like that and know right off what it meant!”
     “It’s a little late for objections,” I said, proceeding to enumerate mine, anyway. I was just getting used to the Tri-Pacer, I complained, and now he had to spring this Comanche on me.  What was wrong with the Tri-Pacer, anyway?  Not fast enough, Ed said.  Why did he always have to be in such a hurry?  But honey, in this baby we can start in the morning and get to Fort Lauderdale in time for a late-afternoon swim.  I like a small plane, I said.  This thing is too big and complicated; I’ll never learn to fly it.  Ed said of course I’d learn to fly it.  If he could learn, I could.
     I said now I understood why he had been so nice to the draperies salesman last Saturday, with a new Comanche up his sleeve.
     “Wasn’t I the simpleton.“ All those piles of literature about Comanches lying around, and I never tumbled.”  
WITH TED IN ED'S NEW COMANCHE
“You’re really adjusting to this very well,” Ed said.  “In fact, you’re being such a good sport, I've decided to forgive you."
~~~    
     In today’s lesson, Bruce gave me a few pointers on the use of the gyro.  I warned him that I was very dumb about things like degrees of the compass and which way was north.  To me, the compass had always been one of life’s greatest enigmas, and I had little hope of ever becoming familiar with its mysterious ways.
     “Whenever you make a right turn, the numbers get bigger,” Bruce said, “and whenever you make a left turn, the numbers get smaller.”
     “Always?” I said doubtfully.
     “Always,” he said firmly.
     The compass had a confusing habit.  Whenever I turned to the left, it turned to the right, and vice versa.  This was distracting when I was under the hood and trying to keep a steady course.  I had to keep telling myself to do everything backwards.  If it seemed to me that I should bear left in order to get back on my heading, I must not let myself be deluded but must grit my teeth and bear right.  What did the compass do then?  It slid to the left in a sneaky attempt to get me to change my mind.  Avoiding the trap, I would stick to my right turn, the numbers would get bigger as Bruce promised, and behold—back on course.
     Ed said the compass didn’t move at all, the plane revolved around the compass.  A likely story.

     My takeoffs are good, my approaches are perfect, my landings are unworthy of the name.  Bruce sits by my side, explaining what I'm doing wrong (everything), then goes into action at the last minute, leveling the wings, lining up the plane with the center of the runway, and deftly touching down at the right moment.   By the end of my ninth lesson Bruce allowed that I could probably land in an emergency.  "You wouldn't get any medals, but you'd walk away from the plane."
     Since it was too windy for takeoffs and landings, I practiced flying under the hood at 2500 feet, where the air was smoother.  This was something I did fairly well, and it gave my morale a boost to hear Bruce say, "That's fine, Barbara."  Of my landings he was more apt to blurt, "Whoopsie daisy!" as he grabbed the controls to keep us from plowing into a snow bank.
     Bruce figured out why I did so much better at 2500 feet than at twenty-five.  "You're land- shy.  You see the ground coming up, you get nervous, and you forget all the things you do so well up here."  I said a land-shy pilot sounded about as useful as a gun-shy hound, but he said I'd get over it.
    
     Ted got his instrument rating a few days ago and is now qualified to fly in a pea soup fog, depending solely on the instrument panel for the safe conduct of the plane.  His father hopes to get his rating in a month or two and is already talking of the exciting far‑away places we'll be able to visit when the children are older—New Mexico, California, New Orleans, the Bahamas.   
      As far as I'm concerned, there's no place in the world more exciting than Norwood Airport.                                                                            
      I never expected to pilot Ed's Comanche, but at least I was learning to fly a Colt. I won't count the fifteen or twenty landings I did with my instructor's help (I mean, like "Help!"); but I was finally beginning to sense when I should level off, and I could feel the plane flare out as it settled down like a swan on the surface of a pond. W‑a‑a‑y back with the stick, and halleluiah, I’d done it.  I laughed like a loony bird and grinned at Bruce, who grinned back and said, "That was it—dee-lightful." Deelightful. What a perfect name for an airplane.
     I felt like a woman who had just learned the one she loved felt the same way about her. I was in love with the plane, and suddenly, incredibly, it had responded.

     "I guess I'd better let you go before this wind gets any worse," Bruce said, unfastening his seat belt and opening the door. "Remember to check the traffic before you take off. Watch your altitude—you'll climb a lot faster with me out of the plane. Don't let her get any higher than 850 feet. If you find you're coming in too high, just go around again. I'll be waiting right here. Make a full stop landing and then taxi back to where I'm standing."
     "And try not to run you down." I quipped.  Taxiing to the beginning of the runway, I stopped to examine the sky for other aircraft, then got into position for my take‑off. A plane was taxiing down the right hand side of the runway. Or was it taxiing up the runway? I was nervous enough to be unsure whether it was coming or going, I only knew that it was there. Instead of minding my own business, I kept glancing at the other plane. Applying power, I headed down the left side of the runway with the idea of keeping well out of its way. As I neared take‑off speed I realized I was getting too far to the left. Forgetting everything I’d learned about steering, I tried to straighten the plane with the wheel instead of the rudders. I floundered into the air with my right wing drunkenly banked. Oh, the shame of it. The first take‑off I ever made was beautiful by comparison.
     Maybe Bruce was lighting his cigarette and hadn't noticed. Leveling off to build climbing speed, I glanced down at his dwindling figure.  It was impossible to tell whether his face was purple, green, or devoid of color.
     Eight hundred feet already? I started my 90‑degree turn and looked back at the runway to line myself up with it at the proper angle. I was surprised to see that instead of being well behind me, the end of the runway was directly beneath me.  Had Bruce said something about the plane climbing faster without him?  That must be why I started my first turn too early.
     Oh well, no harm done. Bruce would turn in his instructor's certificate and I'd go home and take up tomato raising or (sigh) bird watching. But before I went anywhere, there was the matter of landing the plane.
     I landed it all right. Twice. You don't get extra credit for bounces. My flight manual stated that a student usually made his best landing that first solo. Why did I have to be a non‑ conformist?
     "Well, anyway, you did it, Barbara," Bruce said, extending his hand. "Congratulations!"
     By the time I received further congratulations and handshakes from the staff back at Wiggins, the memory of my amateurish performance began to fade.  If you crossed a Cheshire cat with the cat that ate the canary, you'd have my expression as I walked into the house and propped my solo certificate up on the mantelpiece.

     After months of study, Ed finally was ready to take his instrument flight test.  He wouldn't admi the day had arrived, but I could tell.  He went to bed at 9:00, instructing the children not to wake him if they valued their lives.  And instead of announcing every day or two that he wasn't going to tell me when he was scheduled for the test, he was now reminding me of this every five minutes.  "If I don't pass, no one's going to know a thing about it."
     He got up at six, kissed me good‑bye, and looked startled when I said, "Good luck, honey!"
     "Who told her?" I could see him wondering to himself.
     A few hours later, as Ed was homing in on runway 35 at the end of his flight test, I was taking off on runway 17 and climbing straight toward him.
     "Here comes old Dad now, on his ADF approach," Bruce said.  "We'll soon know whether he passed or not."
     My instructor climbed out of the Colt as soon as I landed and waved me on my way.  I did a couple of "supervised" solos, but got little attention from Bruce, who seemed more interested in how Ed had made out than whether I landed the plane upside down or right side up.  
                                                                 
                     
              
          
     "They're coming in now," he said, climbing back in beside me.  "I'll be able to tell if he passed the minute he steps out of that plane, even if he's 500 yards away."
     But Ed foiled him up by taxiing back to the hangar, so Bruce was unable to interpret the jaunty or non‑jaunty set of his shoulders, no matter how he craned his neck.
     "We won't know now till we get back to the office," he said with an air of frustration.  "I guess that's enough now, Barbara, that wind's getting stronger, we might as well go in."
     What was getting stronger was Bruce's curiosity.  Had Ed made the grade or not?
     "The boy got his rating," Charlie Melley called to us as we were tying down the Colt.
     Thank goodness!  Great White Eagle had kept his nose in those books of his for so long, I'd forgotten what he looked like.
      I reached a goal, too, in my Small Eagle-ish way.  Having completed my third hour of supervised solos, I was qualified, it says here, to go out and practice by myself.  The prospect scares me—I don't have as much faith in me as Bruce does. 

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