Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My First Solo

One thing I will never tire of talking about is my romance with flying. I can't say I don't harbour hopes of ever flying again...but of course, right now, I don't have anything to do with flying except as an occasional passenger. Sigh.

One of 'those times' I will always cherish is when I learned to fly a small airplane. Cessna 172, single engine, propellor driven.

It was October 13th and a Friday...in 1995. Yesterday was October 13th and brought up this memory. But that October 13th was special. It was also Friday, the 13th! I knew it but did not want dwell on the horrors it bespoke*, because my flying instructor Joel Rogers finally said to me that day, "Ok, Su, I think you are ready for it." I was quite ready -- for the previous few hours of flying, I had felt an impatience. I directed this to my instructor (whom I quite respected -- read: was afraid of -- although we were almost the same age!) and fiinallly, he got the vibes / confidence.

So, he signed me off, wished me luck (looked nervous, he did). I was later told by a friend there at the flying school in West Virginia that he was certainly nervous as hell and even said once: "I can't look" and walked away. Well, in Charleston, WV, there were very few students at the flying school. And, I was the only foreign one and perhaps a bit more exotic than the average foreigner! (Naane sollikiren / even if I say so myself!)

As an Indian student, I was supposedly given the most 'stable and mature' of the 3 available instructors who were all in their early twenties and trying to make it as commercial pilots by building up flying time and experience by teaching flying.

So I jauntily walked up to the airplane. Took my time (as my paranoid, usual self) with the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, perhaps slightly delaying the actual flying on purpose! Just some nerves and all, mind you. Finally, I taxied out, and took off down the runway.

Taking off is always easy, it's the landing that's tough! SO much like life, eh?;)

A first solo, I think, usually consists of the student pilot on his or her own handling the airplane and doing 3 takeoffs and landings, going around the airport to do so. Now, the airport I was training at was on top of two mountains. Two mountain tops were cut off and the area flattened, to make the airport and obviously, there were many up and down drafts of air that could buffet the small airplane about a bit etc. Yeah, baby, 'Almost heaven, West Virginia', indeed!Of course I was not THIS wise on my first solo and after the first take off, coming in to land, I started singing Dum Maro Dum, giggling feverishly. I still remember how idiotic I felt...and how exhilarated. My second take off was ok too, but during the landing, I was a bit 'off'.

The runway has lights that guide the airplanes but they also indicate whether the pilot is making his or her descent within safe and permissible limits. The easy-to-remember code for the two pairs of lights on either side of the runway was...
White over white = too high (need to descend faster / sharper)
Red over white = You are all right (maintain that descent and you will probably land OK and stay alive!)
Red over Red = You're dead. (nothing more needs to be said!)

So, on my second landing approach, I saw red over red. (This was probably when my instructor turned away feeling queasy!) Trying not to think about crashing into the mountain side and ending up dead, I increased power to get up higher and then landed sharper. My third take off and landing were perfect...as far as memory serves me!

It felt so good. It just did. It still does, I think. Unforgettable.

After all, what's life if not for memories?

*p.s. Have always wanted to use the word 'bespoke';)


umm oviya said...

fantastically descriptive. you know, i have a letter from you that described one of your flying experiences...
in multi-coloured paper. ever think of going back?

Shyam said...

I guess the only person (in family, that is) who will know EXACTLY what you felt/feel is Radish! I dont know how nervous amma was as a passenger, though... :)

nsu said...

Teesu, do you have any photo of you in your Chessna? Shld put that up. and JUST imagining you aloft, flying an aircraft.... It is a proud moment...so you better collect all your flying memories and very soon, you must get back to flying this Chessna thing sometime again!