This is my story of my first flight with LFE– or as I like to call it, “’The Bumps are Okay’ – this and other Life Lessons with LFE”.
First of all, I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of flying. I prefer to define myself as being highly uncomfortable with it. But when I heard that LFE was taking flying lessons I had no doubt that she would be an amazing pilot. I’ve known LFE for over three years, and during that time she has always projected herself as a calm and competent person. Exactly what you want in a pilot, really.
As a friend, I got to hear about all of the ups and downs (literally and figuratively) in her journey to become a pilot. While she may have doubted herself from time to time I never did. She is intelligent and analytical; a quick-witted person with a dry and hilariously sarcastic sense of humor. But that big brain is equally matched with a huge heart – so that is why when LFE asked me to be her first passenger/guinea pig I agreed without hesitation. My husband, who has a much bigger sense of adventure than I do, also immediately jumped on the guinea pig train - er, plane as it were.
So, after deciding on a destination, and then a plan B destination, the day finally arrived and the three of us headed to the airport. But unlike the other commercial flight passengers, we got to take a different route to our plane. Like the group of cool kids that we are.
I had an idea of how small the plane would be, but I had never actually seen one close up in real life. They are small! So small in fact, that my 6’ tall husband bumped his head on the wing. Twice. Now, my “flying discomfort” is having an internal fight with my mild claustrophobia. But I’m not going to tell LFE that. So, after LFE completes her inspection she buckles my husband and I into the plane, and surprisingly, it’s cosy, not claustrophobic. I’m in the front so I have lots of leg space – which is good because I don’t want to be anywhere near the steering wheel thingy (yes, I just said “thingy”) or the pedals that lay before me. LFE jumps in the plane and with gentle authority says “here is Bob” and hands me her small pilot bear. I don’t question this. I’m glad to have a soft cuddly friend tucked into my arm.
“Okay! Welcome to LFE Airlines!” my pilot friend says to my husband and I as she turns in her seat to give us the safety lowdown along with her ‘here’s what you can expect’ speech. We get to the ‘in an emergency’ bit and LFE explains the steps to me of what to do in an emergency landing. My uncomfortable-with-flying mind micro-focuses on these steps and I forget that this is for emergency purposes only. Suddenly I’m thinking that I have to open the door before the plane lands and put a pillow in front of my face anytime we land. My ready to leave now. Luckily before I jump ship – er, plane – I quietly communicate my unease with this responsibility and my non-judgemental friend reiterates that this is only for an emergency. And all is well again.
Until LFE turns on the plane.
Let’s take a moment to remember that I can only compare this to commercial flights, and what it’s like driving a car. When the pilot of a commercial plane turns on the engine, the passengers hear the audible “Vvvvrooomm!” of the engine along with the strong but subtle vibration. Cars have a similar but much softer reaction to the engine being turned. But now I am hearing a “gugida gugida gugida” and feeling a shaking that I can liken to a dogs’ body when it wags its tail so enthusiastically that the entire body shakes and bobbles. If this was a car this would not be good. I would not drive in a car behaving this way. But I say nothing. Clearly if this was not normal, LFE would say something. Prior to flying we had agreed that if something went wrong LFE would tell us. I know LFE, and I trust her. But I don’t know this plane, and my only real fear for this flight is something going wrong with the plane in the air; and I can only watch helplessly as LFE quietly tries to bring us back to safety. If something is wrong, I want to know, darnit! That’s just how I am.
And now for takeoff. This is always the worst part for me on a commercial flight. I can feel the plane leave the ground and I think to myself, “Well there you go. There’s nothing I can do about this now. We’re no longer on solid ground.” But I didn’t have the same feeling in this tiny plane. There is just so much to see from every direction! Don’t get me wrong – I still was holding my breath, blinking hard, and trying to suck back the fear. But LFE seemed cool as a proverbial cucumber, and I could hear my husband’s giddy “woo hoo!” from the back seat, so that was a bit of comfort. I learned quickly that if I focus on taking pictures I could distract myself from my mostly illogical fear. Was it illogical of me to think that if I leaned too far on my side to take a photo I might actually tip the plane? Well, regardless, Bob the bear co-pilot and I did not move much in our seat. But I did take a cute selfie of the two of us.
Then came the bumps.
I suppose I should call it turbulence, but to me it was just a lot of frickin’ bumps in a really frickin’ small plane. I don’t remember how I externalized my fear of the bumps (I had promised myself I would not be afraid of turbulence like some idiot) but LFE pointed to the sheet of grey cloud above our head and explained that they were throwing up air that would feel like waves but it’s okay. It was a perfect explanation as they did indeed feel like waves, and it was indeed okay.
Eventually, as I do with commercial flights, I finally felt acclimatised to the plane flying in the air, and I took some time to sit back and enjoy the view. I’ll even go so far as to say I felt pretty awesome up there with my official head set and mic, listening to all of the official weather reports, and other pilot speak crackling through the radio. It was during this awesomeness that the sparkly snowflakes appeared before our eyes. Now this is where my ignorance really comes into play because I didn’t know the oh-so-pretty snowflakes could actually be oh-so-dangerous. LFE very calmly announced that we are going to turn around. Her demeanor was so calm that I thought she thought I was still having a tough time. But snow is a no-go, and so we turned around and I enjoyed an amazing view of the city.
Then, it was time for the landing. A.k.a. more bumps. Ever the diligent pilot, LFE explained that there would be more bumps, but bumps are okay. “Bumps are okay” I repeated out loud three times until my brain believed it. I was able to repeat this mantra silently to myself as we made it though unscathed, though Bob the bear co-pilot probably didn’t appreciate the not-so-gentle squeezes he received.
The landing itself was surprisingly soft – but hey, ignorance is bliss. Who knew that this softer-than-a-commercial-flight landing of LFE’s was not entirely perfect? Either way, I was happy to be safely on the ground, but disappointed that the flight had to be cut short. I was actually having fun! Imagine that!
So now the big question: would my husband and I fly with LFE again? Definitely! Hours after our first flight we began planning our second which we will do when the weather is warmer and more predictable. And perhaps less bumpy.