A letter from Germany. In which is recalled a very first flying lesson (including practice to start, but not to land) .
Germany, May 2013
of course you know quite well that aviation and aircrafts always fascinated me. How often did we talk in admiration of those magnificent men in their flying machines? Those knights of the air, all apparelled in dashing leather jackets and fancy goggles. I remember that in our imagination flying used to be one of those last resorts of adventure, didn’t it. And while I can understand that a lot of people seem to feel a bit uncomfortable sitting in a little tin high above the clouds, I also always found that very moment when the engines were roaring loudly and the pilot just releases the brakes – that ‘point of no return’ moment, you know what I mean? – highly exciting and l am looking forward to any journey involving a flight. Naturally, and I know you were guessing this already, it was just a question of time ’til I found my way into the cockpit. To the seat on the left.
So, this fine summer day I found myself driving through the bucolic environs of Berlin. The busy capital’s streets already giving way to shadowy alleys which, on their part, lead into a scenery of green meadows and prospering fields. Small towns and even smaller villages were passing, and finally we stopped in the midst of this rural idyll. A vast field: fenced, accurate cut lawn, concrete runways, low barracks. A small airfield, somewhere in Brandenburg. The pilot and instructor with whom I had an appointment this morning for a flying lesson, didn’t let us wait long (excitement growing, I really had to decline the coffee offered) and in next to no time we were standing at the green, next to what looked like … well, to be honest, a model airplane. A matchbox. Good heavens, I was about to take off in a ruddy matchbox!
Admittedly, the MD3 Rider really may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, as I learned quickly. The Czech-designed and Italian-produced light-sport aircraft (is a so-called monoplane, did you have hear of this before?), a fixed-wing plane, some strut-braced high wing with a wingspan of about 8.5 m. The aluminium construction with a steel cockpit cage and carbon-fibre cover is equipped with a single engine in ‘tractor configuration’ (i.e. the propeller mounted in front of the aircraft, thus ‘pulling’ the plane through the air) – I know you just may roll your eyes on all these technical details (that’s why I’m reporting them so detailed here).
Anyway, without hesitation the instructor immediately handed me a checklist, already introducing me to pilot’s business with the usual pre-flight checks. And there’s a lot of things to check, I can tell you! Carefully and thoroughly we went through the list and, fortunately, it turned out that everything was at its right place. Flaps working, trim set, transponder on. Yes, we were ready to go.
As soon as we got our clearance for take-off (go figure, as cool as it just sounds), controls were all mine. First task: taxiing. In case you ever wondered about all those lines painted on concrete floor and airstrip at your average airfield – that’s just to aid the pilot in finding the perfect line on his way to the runway following it with the airplanes nose carefully … which is, by the way, easier said than done, sitting off-centre. Anyway, even when we reached our starting position, the instructor did not intend to take over. Settling back, he was pretty confident. Surprisingly, it turned out starting a plane really isn’t that hard at all: “Just make some speed and gently pull her up.” he said no sooner than done: airborne! And, indeed – not that hard at all. Can you imagine? Me at the paddle of a plane? Surreal.
There’s one thing though, this would-be pilot here really needed to get used to in controlling and steering that plane: its deferred reaction to any manoeuver you may initiate. The slightest pinch to the stick triggers a movement of the plane – it just takes a few seconds to become noticeable. Nothing for impatient folks with gross motor skills, I’m telling you. Pull too hard or too nervously and the obedient vehicle acts like a skittish bronco. But once you got the hang of it, you’ll be surprised how intuitively this whole piloting thing works. Truly, quite an experience – and, of course, not to forget about the fun! Even though that hour passed way too quickly; even though that round was way too short. Much to my regret I had to fly a turn, heading back towards the airfield. The instructor advised me to carefully lower speed and altitude when the runway came back into sight, before finally grabbing the stick himself, approaching for landing. Seems, the landing procedure is a bit more challenging. At least challenging enough, to not completely leave control over a 50,000-something Euro airplane to an absolute rookie. Yeah, go figure.
Well, to cut this rather long story short and to finally answer the half-puzzled statement marking the beginning of this letter: “Fly – yes, land – no.” (Of course, you do recognize an Indiana Jones quote when you see it, I bet.)