3:29 PM

One Mind Opened Up

Last week, I got to enjoy one of the best thrills a general aviation pilot can have when I introduced someone to the wonderful world of GA flying. These days are few and far between unless you're a Young Eagles pilot, but each time they come around, it is golden.

The subject of this "discovery" flight was my lovely daughter-in-law JJ, who was in town for a trade show. She has never flown in a small private airplane, and had built up the usual laundry list of fears about what would happen to her when my flying machine carried her skyward. It was my job on this flight to prove those fears baseless.

Not that JJ is fearful, she is not. She's just a normal girl that had assumed that small planes fall from the sky with increased frequency when compared with the commercial airliners she had flown in before. I don't think she's all that fond of flying the Bigs either, so when you're a little sketchy about blasting through the sky in a gigantic pressurized tube, it stands to reason one might be able to assume that because a Piper Cherokee 235 is smaller, there must be a better chance of it causing your demise.

Here is a summation of what I did to change one mind about GA safety:

JJ did not act outwardly scared as I invited her to accompany me on the pre-flight inspection. I explained that Katy has four gas tanks, and let her look inside to physically SEE the fuel for herself. I told her about the landing gear struts, and how they were sort of like the shocks on her car. And I carefully explained that for the last 44 years, Katy had undergone – and passed – extensive FAA inspections annually, and anything that was not airworthy HAD to be repaired.
Walkaround complete, I pulled Katy from her house and both she and JJ looked ready to rock and roll. I put her hubby Michael in the back seat, and let JJ experience the right seat. I explained that the BAS twin restraint shoulder harness system is one of the finest made for a private plane, and the way the BAS system snuggled her to the lambskin seat cover made her feel a little safer, I am sure.

I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was a bit wide-eyed staring at the many new and complex things on the panel before her. So I choose to do a full-boat checklist for engine start-up and run-up, and explained everything to her as I went. I explained that GA planes have many redundant systems, like two communications radios, two VORs, in my case two GPSs, two magnetos, two fuel pumps, two spark plugs per cylinder, etc. With strength attained by numbers, I believed the jitters were leaving her body, if only for a moment:
As I ran up, my first "first-timer" in Katy watched my every move. She is a very smart woman, and she does not miss much. As the engine cranked away at 1,800 RPMs, the spinning prop wants as always to pull Katy away from her position locked to the tarmac by the handbrake. The physicality of the argument between the prop and the brakes always makes quite a shudder quake through the airframe, and a quick glance over to the right seat confirmed my suspicions that this powered-up conflict of thrust versus brake lining was again raising her internal threat level to red. But JJ calmed herself when she heard what she called "a nice and friendly" female EUG tower controller clear us to taxi direct to 16L.
The rest of the takeoff, scenic flight, approach and landing was uneventful, JJ handled it with a cool sort of flair only she can pull off. Except for a little bit of stomach jumpiness during a brief patch of light turbs, she really enjoyed the flight, and commented that the Cherokee was far smoother then she had expected.

"Welcome to Katyland," I replied.

As I headed back to the field, I asked JJ if she would go up again. Since this trip was a prelude to longer family flights to come, she confirmed that yes, she's up for trips to California, maybe Canada, maybe the San Juans, or anywhere we may choose.

Yes, two-seven whiskey passed the test, showing off a bit as we returned to EUG. She performed a greased 9.5 landing (O.K., I might have helped a little on that), and in the process she and I changed one mind about general aviation aircraft. My first-timer didn't come away from the experience wanting to get her pilot's license, but she now knows how GA airplanes fly, why they don't fall from the sky, and that even a 44-year-old gal like Katy can still deliver a smooth, safe ride.

But the final outcome I was looking for came after JJ had 24 hours to think about the flight. She told me a day after we flew that "it was like I was out of my body, just floating along up there. I had to tell myself I was in a small plane."

Yes, dear, flying the "flagship" of Dano Airlines is certainly an out of body experience. Welcome to my world!

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