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I piloted a small plane for the first time

I took my first flying lesson last week. My instructor, who we discovered once we were airborne live within shouting distance of each other, took me up in a single engine plane, handed me the controls, and told me where to fly. We spent about an hour tracing the Connecticut River from Hartford down to Middletown and back at an altitude of about 3000 feet.

I’ve been learning a great deal about aviation over the last two years. It began with the simple desire to determine if the the plane crash in “Cast Away” was realistic. I found a commercial pilot who had made a video dealing with this exact issue on his YouTube channel. I found it interesting and decided to see what other films he had broken down.

I also noticed that he analyzed less than perfect landings, air traffic controller mishaps, and more. I liked him, and I liked the content, so I subscribed to the channel and started watching. This led to further research into airplane construction, the science of aviation, aviation history, and much more.

I wasn’t doing any of this with the intention of ever flying a plane. I was simply following my curiosity.

Two years alter, Elysha gave me last week’s flying lesson as a gift.

A couple interesting things about my first lesson:

The pilot and instructor was 21 years old and had only been flying for two years. His goal is to fly larger, commercial planes someday, but the airlines have age restrictions and require a certain number of flight hours that prevent him from applying yet.

But in less than two years, he was flying on his own. He has four regular students, takes people on tours of Connecticut, and conducts lots of introductory lessons like the one he did with me.

If you want to learn to fly, it apparently doesn’t take long.

The plane was surprisingly small, old, and less substantial than I had imagined. I felt like we were riding in a flying Volkswagen Beetle. It was built in 1976 and did not have GPS onboard, meaning you needed to be able to eyeball your way everywhere. The doors opened with a simple latch and could be opened easily mid flight, and wind buffeted the plane in ways I did not imagine.

After flying commercial airliners for years, I never understood how little they have in common with single engine planes beyond their wings.

Despite all of this this, the plane wants to fly. The science of flight is real. Air under the wings lifts the plane into the sky, and you need to make a lot of mistakes to screw that up. I was nervous when I took the yoke and began flying the plane myself, but within a minute or two, all of my nervousness had melted away and I felt great.

I understood immediately why people love to fly.

Having watched enough YouTube videos, I was also keenly aware that in a single engine plane, there is no room for mechanical failure. If that engine stops working, you can’t remain in the sky anymore. Commercial airliners can easily continue to fly with just one engine, so unless both engines are somehow disabled (which is what happened during Captain Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson), the loss of a single engine isn’t a problem.

Not so when you only have one engine.

If there is no airport nearby, that may make for a dangerous situation. But I also knew that if an engine dies, planes don’t simply drop from the sky. Unlike a helicopter, which plummets to the Earth as soon as its engine fails, the pilot of a plane can trade altitude for speed for a long time and keep the plane aloft until a safe place can be found to land the plane.

With a single engine plane, a large field or a road will often do the job.

It’s not ideal, and it’s not without danger, but you have a reasonable chance of walking away from an emergency landing unharmed.

Happily, none of these thoughts entered my mind while flying. It was a joyous experience, and though learning to fly appeals to me, the time required puts it near the bottom of my list at this point.

As much as I might enjoy it, there are other things I enjoy more right now.

But if you have the desire and the opportunity, I can’t recommend it enough. Even if it’s something you’ve never considered doing, perhaps consider it. Small airports across the country have companies that offer these introductory lessons, and it’s surprisingly affordable and decidedly unforgettable.