Thursday, August 10, 2017


January 11, 1963
     “All I want to do is learn to land the thing in an emergency,” I informed 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 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 has  become “our plane.”
January 16, 1963
      Ed has given 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 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.
January 23, 1963
      Last Sunday Ed invited me to join him and kibitz while he had an instrument-flying lesson.  He'd told me a great deal about a plane he’s been using for the last couple of weeks, a Comanche, describing its retractable gear, propeller control, and fuel system, but neglecting to tell me one interesting detail I discovered myself.  When I climbed into the back seat, 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 over his shoulder 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, enumerating mine, anyway.  I was just getting used to the Tri-Pacer, and now he was springing 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 was so nice to the draperies salesman, 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.”     
      “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.”
January 13, 1963
     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 is north.  To me, the compass has always been one of life’s greatest enigmas, and I have little hope of ever becoming familiar with its mysterious ways.
     “Whenever you make a right turn, the numbers get bigger,” Bruce told me, “and whenever you make a left turn, the numbers get smaller.”
     “Always?” I said doubtfully.
     “Always,” he said firmly.
     The compass has a habit that I find very confusing.  When I turn to the left, it turns to the right, and vice versa.  This is distracting when I’m under the hood and trying to keep a steady course.  I have to keep reminding myself to do everything backwards.  If it seems 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.  The compass then slides to the left in a sneaky attempt to get me to change my mind.  Avoiding the trap, I stick to my right turn, the numbers get bigger as Bruce promised, and behold—back on course.
     Ed claims the compass doesn’t move at all, the plane revolves around the compass.  A likely story.
February 23, 1963
      My takeoffs are good, my approaches are perfect, my landings are unworthy of the name.  Bruce sits by my side, unruffled, 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 probably could land in an emergency.  "You wouldn't get any medals, but you'd walk away from the plane."
     Since today was too windy for takeoffs and landings, I practiced flying under the hood at 2500 feet, where the air is smoother.  This is something I do fairly well, and it gave my morale a boost to hear Bruce say, "That's fine, Barbara."  Of my landings he is more apt to blurt, "Whoopsy‑daisy!" as he grabs the controls to keep us from plowing into a snow bank.
     Bruce has figured out why I do 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 tells me I'll 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.                                                                  

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