“Oh hi fellas. Good morning,” I said, interrupting a male threesome. Conversation stopped and heads lifted. No sound came from their mouths except for the short cropped, dark-haired man seated.
“Hi, Nancy,” he said as he stood up from his desk. The remaining two turned heads first to him and then to me. They walked out of the office, passing me standing in the doorway.
“Good morning, Michael. How are you?” I said, shaking his hand.
“Good. How are you?”
“Just fine. Beautiful weather day for flying.”
“Yes. It is.”
He didn’t appear to be as enthusiastic about flying that morning as I was. He was all business, enviting me to sit and get started.
I was cashing in on a Total Immersion Flight lesson at Chicago Executive Flight School. And it was also my fifty-first birthday. I started a year ago that day by plucking from my bucket list. I never got to Flight School that year but I did a year later, celebrating on my day by flying an airplane.
I woke up to blue skies and sun with moderate temperature of 71 degrees and light winds. I pulled into a parking spot to face hangar 1005 and flight school. I was ready for this experience.
Though Michael was all business I used his demeanor as a challenge to myself and to him. I needed to settle my nerves and embrace having fun. I hoped he could too.
“Aaah, busy, busy weekend here. Wow,” he admitted during intermittent yawning. I disregarded his need for this. “You’re my first lesson. I don’t have another flight for 4 hours so we’ve got plenty of time. This declaration appeared to relax him, and me.
“Then let’s get started. I’m pulling weather reports here from various local airports,” he said as he worked the computer keyboard. He swung the screen around as he talked and pointed.
I know there was more to the maps and screens filled with nothing but lines of acronyms and airport listings. I could only follow along and keep up.
After concluding our weather check, off to the hangar we went. The shine off the floor, walls and especially the planes encapsulated by a football field size enclosure was eye popping. I was enveloped in grand space with boundaries painted white. I spotted a Lear Jet and other prop planes whose names I don’t remember. I could only stand and stare in awe at these aircraft.
“Wow and that mechanical pit even looks spotless. How do the mechanics work on planes and not get dirt anywhere?” I asked.
Time was fleeting and we needed to move on.
We walked out of the hangar into sun, blinding with its reflection off the clean, white cement.
“Wow, kinda like a scene from Top Gun,” I exclaimed.
“Yep, it is,” Michael laughed. “And this is our plane. A Sundowner.”
I was struck by how clean and in good shape it looked with its blue and yellow stripes from tip to tail, breaking up the continuous white.
He pulled out a small packet of paper, the preflight checklist, and we got started on a thorough examination of the exterior. We circled the plane a couple of times as we reviewed the checklist, and he pointed to parts of the plane, wing mechanics, even taking a sample of the fuel in an oversized syringe-like tool to examine its color and density.
“Okay, let’s get in. Step on that small bar, then on the wing.”
Knowing that “Grace” is not my middle name, I executed the acrobatic maneuvers without Michael’s attention. I hit the seat in the pit with a plop, immediately feeling sunken. An unfamiliar black instrument panel in front of me was in close range enough for me to see the small print, what little of it there was. A quick survey of my surroundings found the interior to be not quite as pristine as the exterior. It was well worn.
“I can’t see over the nose,” I exclaimed loudly. I needed to feel somewhat in control of this thing and I really needed to start by being able to see what was in front of me.
“Gotta move the seat up. Here we go. Here’s the lever. Pull up and to the right,” he said as he excused himself for reaching over me and my legs. I admit his attention and hands-on approach was very comforting.
With the seat moved up as far as possible, my feet felt the rudders. But I still couldn’t see over the nose. I needed a booster. Michael jumped out and stole a cushion from a neighboring plane.
“Try this. Sit on this side. The other is wet.” We laughed.
“Oh, was this used as a flotation device? And now it’s mine?”
It worked, but I still needed more boost. Michael moved on.
Continuing on with preflight checklisting, I flipped switches and read gauges. He made sure I was strapped in and I felt safe, secure and comforted once again.
Michael turned and tuned the radio frequency little knobs which popped out the black panel in front of him. I was glad he was doing this because too many knobs, so many frequencies.
Headsets were planted with each side of the set almost covering the entire sides of my head. Conversation would now be absorbed by small microphones.
“What?” he asked.
I started to repeat my question and . . . “Oh, here, move this microphone close to your mouth, like you’re gonna kiss it, he said as he moved the mike closer to my lips.” Uh, huh. I got it. He could hear me loud and clear after I understood the analogy and adjusted the mike close and personal.
End of part one. Check back soon for part two.