Thursday, August 10, 2017


February 26, 1963
     I never expect to pilot Ed's Comanche, but at least I'm learning to fly a Colt. I won't count the fifteen or twenty landings I did this morning with my instructor's help (I mean, like "Help!"); but I'm finally beginning to sense when I should level off, and I can feel the plane flare out as it settles down like a swan settling on the surface of a pond. W‑a‑a‑y back with the stick, and hallelujah, I've done it! I laugh like a loony‑bird and grin at Bruce, who grins back and says, "That was it—dee-lightful." Deelightful. What a perfect name for an airplane.
     I feel like a woman who has just learned the one she loves feels the same way about her. I am in love with the plane, and suddenly, incredibly, it has responded.
April 2, 1963
     "I guess I'd better let you go before this wind gets any worse," Bruce says, 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 say.  I taxi to the beginning of the runway, stop to examine the sky for other aircraft, get into position for my take‑off. A plane is taxiing down the right hand side of the runway. Or is it taxiing up the runway? I am just nervous enough to be unsure whether it’s coming or going, I only know that it’s there. Instead of minding my own business, I keep glancing at the other plane. Applying power, I head down the left hand side of the runway with the idea of keeping well out of its way. As I near take‑off speed I realize I'm getting too far to the left. Forgetting everything I've learned about steering, I try to straighten the plane with the wheel instead of the rudders. As a result, I flounder 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 is lighting his cigarette and hasn't noticed. Leveling off to build climbing speed, I glance down at his dwindling figure. It’s impossible to tell whether his face is purple, green, or devoid of color.
     Eight hundred feet already? I start my 90‑degree turn and look back at the runway to line myself up with it at the proper angle. I am surprised to see that instead of being well behind me, as I am expecting, the end of the runway is directly beneath me.  Had he 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 will turn in his instructor's certificate and I'll go home and take up tomato‑raising or (sigh) bird‑watching. But before I go anywhere, there is the matter of landing the plane.
     I landed it all right. Twice. You don't get extra credit for bounces. My flight manual states that a student usually makes his best landing that first solo. Why did I have to be a non‑conformist?
     Bruce was kind. "Well, anyway, you did it, Barbara," he said, extending his hand to shake mine. "Congratulations!"
     By the time I received further congratulations from the personnel back at Wiggins, the memory of my amateurish performance began to fade.  If you cross a Cheshire cat with the one that ate the canary, you'll have my expression as I walked into the house and propped my solo certificate on the mantelpiece.

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