Do you know these moments, when you suddenly realize what you are getting yourself into, but it’s too late to do anything about it? I do. I live by them. However, seldom did reality slap me in the face with such an intensity as she did on my first day at the airfield.
We will give you a soft start, the instructor had said. The two of us will be flying the Falcon, a German touring motor glider, starting and landing as the airplanes your are used to – she is just a little bit smaller. I kid you not..
I climbed up into the cockpit. Suddenly I had become a co-pilot, wearing a headset and carefully listening as my instructor explained the instrument panel. How hard could it be? I casually leaded back into the padded seat with the kind of “look at what I am doing!” confident smile on my lips.
My instructor started the engine. The propeller rotated. And as it did the little airplane began to shake, excited and nervous as a racing horse for the gates to open. She was warming up. Her noice silencing any sound that could not compete with the roaring engine.
My confident “look at what I am doing!” smile vanished into an appalled “what in heaven’s name am I doing?!” expression.
The runway in front of us was a lawn, its soft surface disrupted now and then by a molehill. We accelerated. Bushes and high blades of grass passing by. And before I knew it, we were airborne. The club house and sailplanes below us grew smaller and smaller. And the higher we climbed, the louder the wind pushed past our cockpit, swirling over our tailplane fin, the more my confident “look at what I am doing!” smile vanished into an appalled “what in heaven’s name am I doing?!” expression.
Keep breathing. The man next to you knows what he is doing. He has been flying for more than 50 years. Relax. You will land soon and be able to tell your adventures, shake the fear out of your bones and be thankful that your business trips take you on big jet planes.
“It’s your turn now.” I was teared out of my comforting mantras. My turn? “Take the control stick. Use the pedals and try to fly towards that tower on the horizon.” I was here because I wanted to learn how to fly. What were my options? I could not escape, not without looking like a fool – and I wasn’t that paralysed by fear yet.
My fingers cramped around the control stick. My heart jumped up the throat for every turn and tilt I was instructed to fly. Until, after what seemed to be hours to me, I broke my pride and begged my instructor – sitting comfortable with his arms crossed behind his neck at this stage – to take control over the plane again. He laught. “It can be quite exhausting, right?”
Oh, he had no idea. Neither, had I, as it turned out just a few hours later. The worst was still to come. Read on...