4 March 2006






I stare down the runway, though the turning prop, left hand on the yoke, right hand on the throttle control knob, both feet smashed down hard on the rudder pedals, which also serve as wheel brakes. It is January and 30 degrees outside the cockpit but my shirt is soaked with sweat. Solo. I am about to solo an airplane for the first time.


Twice before I have driven the long ride from my home to find the airport covered in morning ground fog and nothing flying under visual flight rules. Today, in the car, driving to the airport, I am not sure if I want to find the field fogged in or not. Anxiety is not something I am familiar with and it bothers me that I am so full of it today, now.


Solo. Although I have taken off and landed the training Cessna 172 at least 40 or more times over the course of my instruction, this time will be different. No instructor beside me to provide vocal support. No instructor to remind me to check some gauge, watch my air speed, or lower the flaps. No instructor to turn, push or pull the yoke just as I cross the landing threshold to correct for a cross wind which has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Solo. All alone up, around, and down and taking care of all the cockpit workload by myself.


Few things I have ever done have required that I get it all correct or mostly so on the very first attempt, but this is different. The nose of the plane held too high and I will stall out. A sudden burst of wind on landing and a wing tip could fit the ground. Not enough yoke pulled back or flare on touch down and the prop could hit the runway.


I stare down the runway waiting for myself to let go. The tower has cleared me for takeoff and so here I am, out on the runway, ready to push that throttle in all the way, release the rudder pedals and go speeding down the runway until I reach take off speed and pull back on the yoke and am airborne.


Not sure why I ever signed up for pilot training. Will never have the time to actually rent a plane and go anywhere for any sort of trip. Just some test for myself, I think. To learn something new and perhaps and most ridiculous, to put the term “pilot” by side my name, description, biography. To be able to fly, to take to the air in what is basically a tin can and sail like a bird up into the clouds and above the noise and fray of all that is below me.


I like being 5,000 feet above the earth. All that  is below shrunk in size and significance and I can hear none of it and hardly see much of it. I like being there, just not in charge.


Seconds have gone by and I know the tower is watching me and wondering what I am waiting on. Other traffic is waiting to take off or land or soon will be and they are going to need the runway I now sit on.


I tighten my left hand around the yoke in what one instructor has called my “death grip” as my knuckles are white from the pressure, grip of terror. No, not comfortable being here. Need to be here but not liking it all that much.


Suddenly, the hand on the throttle control knob begins to push the knob into the cockpit dash and the prop beings to spin up and then the feet relax on the rudder pedals releasing the wheel brakes and the Cessna begins its roll down the runway.


Faster and faster I go as the throttle knob is now flush with the cockpit dashboard, feet moving with yoke to keep me on the centerline of the runway. Easy, easy until at about 60 knots, I can feel the plane wanting to lift off the ground and I wait another couple of seconds and then pull back on the yoke and I am airborne.


I stare down the runway, feet smashed down on the rudder pedal brakes, left hand on the yoke and right hand on the engine throttle knob.

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