Come Fly With Me
MidWeek sends a writer up into the sky for a first flight lesson. Despite an early ‘death grip’ on the stick, she finally relaxes and lands safely
By Lisa Asato
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The author gets a pointer from Robert “Mac”
Smith of Flight School Hawaii
This isn’t your captain speaking: “This is a gorgeous day for flying. We have great visibility. I can see more than 20 miles today. I’ve been out already, seen whales off of Kalaeloa Airport this morning. We’ve seen the very large surf on the North Shore - looks like 20 foot or better out there right now.”
No, this is Robert “Mac” Smith, chief instructor at Flight School Hawaii., who wears gold wings on his chest and a Punahou School ring on his hand.
Smith gave me my first flying lesson on Sunday as part of an effort by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to get more people out of their homes and into the skies.
“Who’s going to be sitting in the front? You guys are going to be flying,” one of the instructors says to me before I head out. The introductory lesson, which flight schools often offer at discounted rates ($59 at Flight School Hawaii), is hands-on from takeoff to touch down. When the words, “You’re flying,”
MidWeek’s Byron Lee snapped these scenic
shots from the back seat while the author
was flying, too busy to enjoy the view:
Diamond Head, Arizona Memorial, Tripler
came through the headphones, I could hardly believe it. Takeoff in a single-engine Cessna 172S was nothing like in a jumbo jet when you get that feeling you left your stomach behind. It was as smooth as taking a step.
“When (first-timers) come down to see us and they want to book that introductory flight they are 99 percent certain they want to go ahead and fly,” Smith says. “The introductory flight is designed to go ahead and absolutely convince them they’ve made the right decision because sometimes they’re leery about, ‘Oh, it’s too complicated’ or ‘Am I going to get airsick?’ ... or ‘I’m afraid to stand on a ladder, am I going to be afraid to get in a little airplane?’ ...
“In the introductory (flight) my job is to make sure all of your apprehensions are just taken away because you see it’s easy to do. The person sitting next to you is not going to let anything happen to you. The biggest thing is just go out there and have some fun.”
Fun is totally possible if you can let go of any anxieties you may have. For me, turbulence wasn’t bothersome. But for first minutes of being airborne I was anxious. My body temperature felt like it had elevated right along with the airplane’s engine of. My thighs started to burn from being flexed - ready to push the pedals that are only meant for braking and steering on the ground. And, trying to focus on keeping the nose level with the horizon, I was only vaguely aware of the scenery below. So when Smith started narrating, “We just flew over Nimitz Highway. There’s the H-1… there’s Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial,” I could only glance down for a second.
But after some acclimation, I started to take in the sights. I saw Waipio Soccer Complex, where I had played soccer earlier in the day. I saw my old high school on the hill, with its French-vanilla-colored music building. I saw Mililani Mauka and tried to pick out the street my friend lives on. It was like Google Earth with a propeller.
There’s more to watch than
Back on earth, with my feet on the ground after my first flying lesson over, I asked Smith, “How would you rate how I did today?”
“Great,” he says, offering positive, supportive assessments. But my favorite feedback was this: “Like most people flying the first time you had a little bit of a death grip on the stick.”
I like the “death grip” description. It’s funny, because in my case anyway, it was true.
For information on flying and flight schools: www.projectpilot.org
Flight School Hawaii says getting a private pilot’s license can take an average of 45 to 50 hours and cost $7,500 to $8,000.
Moore Air offers free ground school for private pilots every other month. The next class starts April 3 and meets twice a week for eight weeks. Books are extra.
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