Hands On Trial Flight

Originally published on Where’s My Glow?

Earlier this month I was up super early on my sleep in day yet again for another RedBalloon experience. I have an uncanny knack for scheduling them poorly it would seem.

Map Guy, Tricky and I rocked up at Jandakot Airport after a forty minute car trip filled with “I see p’anes? I see p’anes now, Ma?”, ready for me to get airborne. Turns out I wasn’t the only one looking forward to it.

And then I saw it. Oh gawd, what have I done?

It was an impossibly small Cessna aircraft and I was mean to not only fly in it but take over the controls of for my first flying lesson. Suddenly I wasn’t so excited any more. Instead I was wondering how it is even possible for something like that to fly and also, how the hell was my ass going to fit in it? I believe shitting bricks is the appropriate expression.

My pilot, Greg, was awesome though and allayed my fears. He’s had blokes weighing almost twice as much as me and is not too fussed by being sandwiched next to his students. I do believe he was a sardine in a former life.

We went through the pre-flight checks and I learnt all about Romeo Whiskey Quebec, including how to manually check how full the tanks are, how to see if the fuel is clean and how to trip over the wheel chock. At that point I wished I was with Romeo, drinking Whiskey in Quebec and not about to get in a flying tin can.

We put on our required flight wear – headsets and sunglasses. But not aviators, Greg and I agreed aviators just make you look like a wanker. Then we both channeled contortionists and folded ourselves in to the cockpit at which point I said a silent prayer of thanks to whomever it was that invented deodorant.

I asked if I had to turn off my phone or if I could put it to flight mode so that I could take photos. He laughed. No fancy pants electronics to interfere with in this thing, it’s all manual, baby! So, just because I could, I put a photo of me in the cockpit on Instagram while we were taxiing to the runway.

The wind started to get really blustery as we waited for our turn on the runway and he asked if I usually got motion sickness. Ummmm yeah, about that… I’m the girl who used to throw up every single time a plane would land. Without fail. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I managed to create my own almost foolproof strategy of focusing intently on the fasten seatbelt sign and deep breathing. But even then I’d still feel like death. I’ve even been seasick on a cruise ship. A cruise ship with 12 decks that no one else could feel moving.

He handed me some ‘Sic Sacs’ and I stuffed them in bra. What? There’s no seat pocket in front ya know!  Remind me again why I decided to do this? That’s right, to prove I could.

Things got serious after that because I was in charge of the throttle for takeoff. Yes, I know, I freaked out too. It was hard to hear Greg over the over the roar of the engine, and I was petrified I was going to do something wrong so I pushed it in really slowly.

At this point he asked me to do it faster since we were going to run out of runway if we kept going at 20km/h. I pushed it in and we lifted up in to the air. I can only assume I did it right because no alarms went off and we didn’t crash.

It felt bloody amazing. I was flying!

We got up to 15,000 feet and the controls were handed over to me. Despite Greg being right next to me with his own set of controls to grab if I did something wrong, it was at this point I kinda wished I’d worn brown trousers. Light aircraft controls are really touchy. It was sorta like Mario Kart except when you fall from the sky a little dude on a cloud doesn’t pick you back up. I suck at Mario Kart.

The nose dipped a bit before I got used to keeping us level while turning and I felt like my stomach was going to fall out. I flew up the coast and back around for half an hour, though it seemed like five minutes. I didn’t see any of the view after we got up high and I was in charge – Godzilla could have been rampaging on the ground and I wouldn’t have noticed since I was concentrating so hard on keeping the Cessna steady.

We were only five minutes from landing and I’d almost lined us up to the runway when I was pretty sure I was just about to yack. I had to relinquish the controls to concentrate on my breathing and the fasten seat belt sign. Except there is no freaking fasten seatbelt sign in such a teeny tiny aircraft! GAH!

I looked around and spotted a Tiger Moth stunt plane just in front of us, getting ready to land too. I swear it hadn’t been there a second earlier.

My shoulder angel told me to focus on it’s bright yellow wings… my shoulder devil started screaming “Why are we so close to another plane? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” At about that time the angel executed a perfect roundhouse kick and quickly shut that devil up. But needless to say, little planes fly really bloody close to each other.

We followed it down and had the smoothest touch down less than a minute after it landed and I had not been violently ill or responsible for crashing a plane. Winning.

Despite almost revisiting my breakfast, I absolutely loved the flight. I love that I can tick it off my bucket list and say I’ve helped a plane take off, flown out over Fremantle and didn’t yack at any point. If I do it again I’ll be munching on ginger and anti-nausea tablets and staying up there for longer, maybe even in the Tiger Moth. Then I’d get to wear those goggle thingys, the big jacket and a scarf. Have to have the scarf.

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