Tuesday, October 21, 2003

New Menace From Above

New Menace From Above

Yesterday, a new aerial menace was unleashed above the Los Angeles
basin--I took my first flying lesson. This was a birthday gift--a Three Hour Tour; 1 hr of ground and 2 hrs in the air.

We were going up in the single-engine Cessna 172 high-wing 4-seater, N107AF. And that's what came back. I am not making this up--Mary Pat rode along and saw the white knuckles of Dover herself.

My flight instructor was a genial steely-nerved nice-guy named Lewis.

First I got a clue at the dials I was going to be making friends with. Then we went over basic aeronautical theory, Bernoulli Effect and so forth. That effect sometimes requires a bag, but not today. It was clear and calm.

Then we went outside and did the entire methodical preflight; wagging the ailerons and rudder, optically testing the fuel for clarity [he declined my offer to hold a zippo up to it], checked the tires, removed the cotter pin from the yoke, and so forth. Oh yeah, also disconnected the tie-downs from the plane. We also were briefed on the 5-second rule, the "arc of death". and other fine points. He exuded the calm aura of a man who was in no hurry to die from aerial misadventure.

Got strapped in, put on the radio headset. Listened to chatter all around as planes came and went. Heart rate monitor was pegging out at 140. The mikes do not voice activate at mouse-squeak thresholds.

Lewis fired up the bird, and I did some runway taxi work. This was the first time I was requested to hit the Botts Dots on the yellow line. I'll demonstrate next time we drive somewhere. Working the steering from the pedals alone was "interesting". Lewis and Mary Pat
didnt laugh too hard. they make runways wide for a reason.

Now it was time to slip the surly bonds. Lewis handled the formalities with the tower. Nobody rushed out to tie on a cow-bell. It was me, my sweaty palms & bulging eyes, 180 horse and a full throttle.

We're rolling. Don't fuck up. When the wheels were no longer on the ground I'd never felt so vulnerable. After all, its only 2300 GWT and 52 gals of 100 octane which properly combined are equal to about 20 sticks of dynamite. The buildings and people got mercifully smaller. Remembered to breathe.

Lewis asked me to look down. No fucking way. Not yet. Let me stare straight ahead and keep the horizon where its supposed to be. We did the noise-abatement wiggle over Santa Monica, climbed up to 2000 feet, and headed north. Started to learn about trim tabs. I'll take
Lewis' word for it right now. Exhale.

Did 2 minute turns, which means the bird was banking at a 30-degree angle. Forty-five degrees is where drinks wind up in laps. We'll save 60s for later. Flew over the Santa Monica Mountains. Updrafts and thermals were giving my ass love taps. Flew over trails and canyons
tucked away in the Boney Peaks.

On the return leg flew over steroidal mansions in Malibu. We flew over Arnold's house in Brentwood. I was sorry we'd left the napalm on the runway.

Now it was getting on time for a landing. Lewis alerted the tower. Took the downwind all the way to the Pacific Design Center, turned right, then started the line up on final approach. Ghosted over the top of the 'twin towers' in Century City. Watched the PAPI lights line up to keep the approach angle consistent. I never thought 65mph would be so fast. Tried not to fishtail. If those unsuspecting people on the ground only knew that Mr Trail Safety was in the
air...they'd all run screaming for cover.

The runway is close, and oh sweet jesus, it is wide. I'm thinking about those wee rubber donuts they call wheels. A bounce. Land solid. A least it wasn't a nose-over. Everybody is still connected. Braked to a sedate stop.

Taxi out, hit some more Botts Dotts. My quads stiff from all this relaxation. The crystal on my heart-rate monitor is shattered. Lewis is still on a paid vacation. The tower is alerted that N107AF is about to take off again.

OK, it's a little less freaky. Full throttle is good. Punch it up to 110. Pull back gently. Keep the stall horn harmonica for another occasion. This time after the take-off we bank left, and fly towards LAX. If they only knew. But we had plans for later, so we did a second landing. The Twin Towers survived another day. We touched down again, not so bouncy.

Flying is a sobering experience. But after that, who needs crack?

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