Thursday, August 10, 2017


     Ed has been appointed to the Massachusetts Aeronautic Commission and is pleased with the honor. On a business trip a few days ago he sat next to a man who has been piloting a private plane for 20 years. It was his opinion that flying was the greatest thing in the world, next to love‑making.
     "I'd say he wasn't a true enthusiast," I observed. (The third greatest thing in the world is making my husband laugh.)
     I never thought the day would come when I'd react to a barely passing grade with whoops of joy and a kangaroo‑style sprint to the telephone.
     "Guess what, I passed the instrument rating exam!"
     "Congratulations! What'd you get?"
     "Why bring that up? A 73."
     "Better than I did."
     He can't kid me, he passed the first time around, but I'm not complaining. As long as I don't have to take that horrendous exam again, I'm the happiest female pilot in the Northern hemisphere (where the winds, if anyone is interested, flow counter-clockwise around a low-pressure system.) Instead of studying, studying, studying, I can do some Christmas shopping or have a party or read a book. For fun!
     Now that I was qualified by the written exam, I had an instrument flying lesson with Charlie. After a month without practice, I'd forgotten how to fly our new Twin Comanche VFR, never mind under the hood. First I neglected to switch on the fuel pumps before takeoff. Then, at 400 feet I began pulling back on the throttles, watching for a change in my RPMs instead of the manifold pressure. Couldn't understand why the needles weren't moving, was the instrument stuck?
     Charlie, unperturbed, smoked his pipe, let me discover my mistake, then remarked, "Let's see, was it just last week I did the very same thing?" No matter what sort of blunder you commit, Charlie would have you believe he's made the same mistake a dozen times.
     Carrying out an instrument approach with the help of the ADF, which I mastered in theory, was more complicated when I was sitting in the plane. I didn't have a pad of paper, a pencil, and half an hour to figure things out. I couldn't even steal a peek out the window because I was wearing a plastic hood designed to limit my visual environment to the instrument panel.
     "You see, Barbara, you were parallel to your course so you took a 40 degree bite in order to get over to it. When the ADF needle hits 140—that's 180 minus your 40- degree interception angle—you'll know you're back on course. Then you turn to your 175 outbound, only with that west wind you'll have to crab to the right, so better make it about 190, then we'll see what you're ADF needle does, if it stays on 165 you'll know you have the right amount of crab, but if it begins to move toward 180, you'll know you have too much crab, right?"
     Right as mud, I'm thinking as I struggle to maintain my altitude, keep my airspeed constant, stick to the proper heading of the moment, and lend half an ear to the calculations this human computing machine is rattling off. I can't believe I'll ever learn the knack of doing sixteen things at once, but with Ed singing his favorite refrain, "Anything I can do, you can do, too," I'll have to try.

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