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  • W.M. Tarrant

I’d like a flying lesson

“I’d like a flying lesson,” I said. Extending my hand to reveal a coupon, I added, “I have a five-dollar coupon.”

1971. I had just finished my freshman year in college and wanted to do something to celebrate. Cessna ran ads in newspapers that included a coupon for a five-dollar introductory flight lesson. That’s not five dollars off; that’s five dollars for the entire lesson. Even a poor college student like me could scrape together that much money.

The flight instructor led the way out onto the apron of the small-town airport and stopped beside a Cessna 150, a diminutive two-seat airplane. I followed him around as he deftly performed preflight checks, briefly explaining each step. Chatty he wasn’t. To the point. He fit the image in my mind of a real pilot. Probably mid-thirties, thinning hair cut in a short flattop. I took a quick look at the sky. Blue. Summer cumulus beginning to build. In a few moments I’d be up there in it.

The instructor put me in the left seat, the pilot-in-command seat. And I felt I could do a reasonably good job of commanding this machine. After all, I’d read books, both factual and fictional, and had seen the tv shows. “Twelve O’clock High” was my favorite. I had made careful note as to how the actors “flew” the planes. Yeah, I could command this little airplane.

Wisely, the instructor made the takeoff then pointed us toward a nearby lake. Over the middle of the lake, he banked sharply left. I caught my breath as I stared down into the water 1500 feet below. OK, that was exciting. He leveled off and told me to take the controls. Now I could show him what I could do. “Make a turn to the left,” he yelled. See, we had to yell to be heard over the sound of the engine. Headsets were not commonly used in those days. Alright, I’d seen General Savage and other Hollywood pilots turn airplanes. I cranked over the control wheel and stomped on the left rudder pedal. Looking down into the lake again! Those controls are sure sensitive at cruising speed. Easing off the control input the plane assumed a reasonable amount of bank. The turn to the right he called for went a lot better. Next was climbs and descents. I learned, too, yanking the nose up and slamming it down is not proper technique. Throttle controls up and down movement with only small adjustments on the control wheel. Guess one can’t believe everything on tv.

The biggest challenge was straight and level flight. He pointed out a landmark on the horizon and told me to keep the nose pointed toward it. Simple. Wait, where’d that landmark go? Oh, over to the left somewhere. Line up on a road and follow it. Where’d the road go? How come we’re losing altitude? The feisty little machine commanded me. I was along only for the ride as it wandered all over the sky.

Time was up. Or maybe the instructor had enough of this ham-fisted young fella in the left seat. Either way, we headed back to the airport. The instructor made the landing. I was to stay clear of the controls.

On the ground I was both humbled and excited.

Once inside the office the instructor offered to get me a logbook and record the time spent up in the air that day then schedule future lessons. Guess he didn’t think I was hopeless after all. I replied that though I’d like to continue with lessons I couldn’t until I was done with college.

Wish I’d have gotten that logbook.

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