Yesterday was my 43rd birthday, and as a special surprise, Olya (my wife) decided to treat me to something that I have wanted to do ever since I was about 8 years old.
About 3 months ago, Olya was browsing on the Australian Groupon website when she came across something she couldn’t resist buying and which she knew I would absolutely love to do, so this surprise was months in the making and really shows how well Olya knows me. So what was the surprise? I got to be a pilot for 45 minutes with my very first ever flying lesson!!
What made the day even more special was that I got to spend it with my sons who are with me this weekend, and in particular with my youngest who has aspirations to be a pilot some day. So I packed the family into the car and we drove for a little over an hour across to the other side of Melbourne where the Melbourne Aviation flying school is based at Moorabbin Airport.
The experience started out with a pre-flight briefing, where I was instructed in the basics of controlling an aircraft, how the wings, engine, flaps, ailerons, elevators & rudder all work together to keep the aircraft in the “blue bit” and not on the “green bit” of my view out the window. I was told a little about the aircraft, which is extremely light at a weight of about 500kg, and an engine that is only 85hp… so twice the weight of an average motorcycle with an engine capacity not much better than a ride-on lawnmower!!!. I was given a run-down on what all of the instrumentation and switches were for, and then told that I really need only to worry about the stick, rudder pedals, and the view out the window for my first lesson.
My instructor then walked me out to the aircraft – which is a Jabiru J170-D, did a quick pre-flight check, flipped a couple of switches, and in only a couple of minutes we were taxiing out from the school’s parking area to the apron of the airfield. With the headset on, I could chat with the instructor even over the noise of the engine, and I could hear the chatter between the other pilots and the air traffic controller. the instructor requested permission to leave and was instructed to taxi to a particular spot near the runway to await further instructions. Shortly after arriving, we were granted permission to take off.
The instructor throttled up the engine, and we were in the air within seconds. The light little plane was bouncing about with every little change in wind, but on the whole it was a very smooth take-off. We proceeded in a straight line directly towards Port Phillip Bay where we left the controlled airspace near the airport, and the instructor set the aircraft up for an easy level cruise at about 1000 feet. I was shown how the stick is used to role the aircraft into a really gentle turn and how to keep the wings level, and instructed to follow the coast south for a while. At this point, I was given control and with a very gentle nudge of the stick from side to side on occasion, I was flying the aircraft, maintaining a relatively straight heading, keeping the wings level, and adjusting for the little bumps that the weather threw at us from time to time. I kept looking out the windows around the plane for signs of birds or other aircraft, and it felt incredibly easy.
We flew over a place called safety beach, where there is a little bay within the bay, and there I was show how to use the elevators to nudge the nose of the aircraft up and down, and how to use the rudder to pull the aircraft into a tighter turn. The instructor applied throttle and flap as needed, and had me turning in circles both ways, keeping the nose of the plane level to stop the aircraft sliding downwards in the turns. After a little of this, we were halfway through the lesson, and it was time to head back to the airport.
I turned the aircraft towards land and was instructed to follow a newly built freeway north. I’m given to understand that I was using an age old navigation technique called IFR, which is a really old Pilot’s joke, because IFR is an acronym for Instrument Flight Rules, but which is jokingly used to mean “I follow Roads”. So yes, I followed the new Penninsula Link road northwards for a few minutes, then banked right and followed the East Link road for a few minutes more. As we flew over land, I noticed that the aircraft was getting pushed about a little more by winds, and at one point the aircraft suddenly rolled to the right which required a quick thinking counter move on my part to keep the wings level. I asked the instructor if that was likely to have been as a result of catching the edge of a thermal, and it turns out I was right. Yay me for actually remembering something about weather and aircraft from my teen years as an Air Cadet.
Shortly afterwards, as we entered the controlled air space around the Moorabbin Airport, the instructor took control of the aircraft, dropped us nice and low and once again we were requesting instructions from air traffic control for landing, a short taxi back to the flying school offices and that was sadly the end of my first ever flying lesson.
The flight fulfilled a dream I had put aside for many years, and left me feeling in awe of the skill of those pilots who ensure that their passengers arrive safely no matter how difficult the flying conditions may be. I felt as if a locked door had been opened and a dream allowed to escape and be everything that I had hoped it could be. When I returned to the flying school, I shared the experience as best I could with my family, and my youngest son was very quick to tell me that this is what he wanted to do for his 16th birthday! He then proceeded to show me a magazine that listed the price of a Jabiru at only $58,000, sparking an interest in me of another dream I had as a boy, that could one day be a reality if I allow myself to let it.
I spent part of the afternoon with my parents who always look forward to when I can bring their grandsons to see them. Mum made a fuss – and a cake – which I tasted only because she had gone to so much trouble, but which was certainly not Paleo. That was the only dietary cheat I’ve had in 33 days of Paleo, and all to avoid disappointing my mother!
The rest of the day was family time at home. Watching a movie with the boys and enjoying a little quality time with them. It was a really lovely family day in the end. Something I don’t get to enjoy as often as I’d like so I tend to value them so much more as a result.
We tend to value certain things in our lives and often we feel that this requires that we set aside our dreams. Sometimes when we set things aside, they feel lost and unattainable to us, even while they might never be forgotten. It seems to me that the best part of my birthday gift was my wife inadvertently reminding me that even though we do put those dreams aside, if we really want them and if they will fulfil something deep inside of us, that perhaps we should find a way to make those dreams a priority, by turning them into goals and then finding a way to achieve them. While I had dreams of being a pilot when I was a boy, I’ve since long decided that I wouldn’t want to work as a pilot for a living, yet this shouldn’t stop me from continuing to dream of qualifying for a pilot’s licence some day in the not too distant future, and this just might happen some day, if I choose to let it.