Saturday, September 1, 2012

That First Time Grin

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
1 Sep 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - OYM (St Mary's, PA) - 5G0 2.4 1082.6

In Control

We were at 8500 feet, sliding smoothly over a scattered layer a few thousand feet below.  Beside me in the right seat, The Bear was engrossed in a "Nancy Clancy" book.

I touched her arm softly and she looked up at me.

"Are you ready?"

A smile bloomed across her face.  "Yes!"  Without hesitation, she reached forward and grasped the aluminum control yoke before her.  It was her first time ever taking the controls.

"Do you want to go right or left?" I asked.

The Bear hesitated.  "I don't know," she confessed.

"How about right?" I suggested.  Smoothly, The Bear turned the yoke, watching out her window as the wing dipped earthward at her command.

"How about the other way?"

Without responding, The Bear turned the yoke the other way and we smoothly transitioned into a shallow left bank.  She beamed with pride as the airplane responded to her inputs, s-turning through the heavens.

The look of absolute happiness on her face gave me goosebumps.

West Wind

Our objective that morning was to visit a couple of new airports and have lunch at one of them.  Although the forecast boded well for visual flying in western Pennsylvania, reality presented a gloomy haze in the direction of both destinations and I decided it was time to activate Plan B.

We turned eastward onto a new course toward St Mary's, PA, crossing the East Branch of the Clarion River / Lake.  Seeing it brought back a strong memory from three years prior when we flew over this reservoir on another diversion to St Mary's.  It was a night when good practices staved off an error of complacency.

We landed at St Mary's Municipal Airport, the former home of The Silver Wing restaurant.  Despite new ownership and a rechristening as The West Wind, the menu appeared to be the same.

The ramp was empty of aircraft except for this Pitts.  I pointed it out to The Bear by saying, "look, there's an airplane that's your size.  It's called a Pitts."

She considered the single seat aerobatic ship for a moment, then answered, "I know it's a's just like one of the pedal planes."  A+ for The Bear and her terrific memory.

September 11, 2011: Oswego County Airport, EAA fly-in breakfast
We peered into the tight, single place cockpit.  "How would someone learn to fly this airplane?  There's no room for a teacher!" The Bear observed astutely.  I explained that a pilot would have to learn on other airplanes and translate that knowledge to the Pitts.

West Wind's dining room was closed to the public for a bridal shower, but The Bear and I were offered the balcony overlooking the airport ramp.  We had it to ourselves and it afforded a great view of the aircraft parking area where Warrior 481 completely dwarfed the Pitts.

The Bear dove immediately into the next book while we waited for our lunch.

The St Mary's Airshow

When the pilot of the Pitts strolled out to his airplane, donned his parachute, and climbed inside, The Bear rushed to the edge of the balcony to watch him depart.  She was not disappointed.  The Pitts climbed into the air crisply, leveled a few hundred feet over the runway, and performed an aileron roll.  It was the first time The Bear had ever seen someone roll an airplane and she was impressed.

The Pitts returned, performing another aileron roll on the second pass.  The third pass was done completely inverted.  When it returned a fourth time, the Pitts was at a higher altitude and the pilot performed a half Cuban Eight.

"Cool," murmured The Bear as she watched in wonder.

"You've never seen an airplane do that before, have you?" I asked.

"Well," she said in a very businesslike manner, "I do stuff like that with my toy airplanes, but I've never seen a real airplane do that."

I told her about female aerobatic pilot Betty Skelton who named her Pitts "Lil' Stinker".

The Bear snorted.  "Really?"

"Really," I confirmed.

Asleep at the Wheel

I promised The Bear that she could have more time on the controls during the return flight once we were at cruise altitude.  Unfortunately, it was an extremely bumpy ride and we cycled through a continuous succession of rising and falling air under a scattered cumulus layer.  Kristy would have hated it, but these conditions fostered the usual response from The Bear:

I really did mean to let her have more "stick" time...

...but she was literally asleep at the wheel.  I let her have the nap, she does not take many these days.

We bumped and wobbled back to Le Roy from St Mary's, PA.  As we passed it, Rushford Lake seemed to point the way home.


After cleaning up the airplane, we talked about taking more photos to commemorate the occasion.

We thought that, maybe, we could do some digital editing to this one of her in the left seat, but decided that it would give Granny a heart attack.

And so, we settled for this picture of The Bear demonstrating what she got to do with her own two hands.

Every pilot remembers the first time he or she ever took the controls of an aircraft in flight.  And now The Bear and I have experienced that milestone together.  I hope that her adventure today was as joyful for her as my first experience was for me; and that she carries that joy in her heart no matter where she goes in life. 


  1. Awesome! Definitely a milestone in her flying career thus far.

    Sounds like you got a little version of the airshow we had today at Stewart watching that Pitts depart, too.

    1. I was curious to hear about who/what was flying in your local air show....are we going to be seeing a post about that? And what's with same day notice on FB?! Surely, you can do better than that!

    2. Delayed reply...

      I usually put up a reminder post further in advance but completely forgot this year! They have a variety of folks - Emerson Stewart, Brett Hunter, Bill Leff, etc. - doing acro routines. Unfortunately, no photos this year since I spent the entire day working the show.

  2. Congrats to the Bear! I let "the Banana" have a shot at the stick the first time I took her up, and she kept saying "daddy, I don't think I am allowed to fly the plane.". This past Friday we went flying together, and she got her first taste of stalls, ground reference maneuvers, and steep turns in addition to flying the plane again. She loved all of it, particularly flying the plane. Blog post to come soon.

    1. As I'm sure you are more keenly aware than most, the key is to make those offers while keeping people in their comfort zones. The funny thing there is that kids are usually game for most anything - it's the adults who worry because they bring their preconceived notions along with them (often based more on phobia than fact).

    2. Chris,

      You're right about that. When she came home and told her mother about all the "cool" things we did, she was excited while her mother tried to hide her terror. My daughter only got scared once because she misread my anger at two turkeys in the pattern arguing over the radio.... Over one's alleged safety infraction of all things!