Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for. Two weeks ago I passed my checkride and became a certificated private pilot. Today, I flew with my first passenger, my 13 year old daughter, Katie. I had been waiting so long to be able to just fly, to go beyond my 25 NM radius pen, to be able to go flying with my daughter, just me and her. Flying is so special to me and she is my daughter, the most special person in the world. What could be more perfect than that?

The original plan was for Katie and I to fly up to Willows, CA (KWLW) to get pies for Thanksgiving desert from Nancy's Airport Cafe. Nancy's is famous for some of the best pies in Northern California. Willows is about 135NM north of my home airport, normally I would consider that far away for a first cross country after getting a license, but flying (and driving) to and from Willows is very familiar to me. I had my favorite plane reserved and knew the route, but the weather was looking iffy. True to typical Northern California winter, a series of low pressure systems, with rain, were working their way from north to south. I knew the latest system would be working its way south today and was expected to reach our area late afternoon or evening. When I checked the weather Willows looked clear, outlooks were VFR, the winds aloft were strong but not horrible. I felt uneasy though. I kept checking different weather data, prog charts, SIGMETS and AIRMETS, etc, etc. I realized I was trying to find data to convince myself it was OK to do this particular flight. But the "little voice" was insisting it wasn't a good idea. I didn't want to do my first post checkride cross country flight with the most precious cargo I could carry (my own daughter) into a potential storm, even if the storm wasn't supposed to be in the area for many hours to come, and the expected weather could hardly be categorized as a "storm". Finally, I decided not to go on that mission. The "little voice" calmed immediately.

Katie and I discussed alternate plans, I had been wanting to fly towards Monterey Bay and go along the coastline (all summer I'd looked at small planes flying the same coastline with some jealousy) and she mentioned that she would like to see the cement ship sunk off the coast at Seabright Beach. We checked the weather at the small airports along the Monterey Bay coastline and all looked good, in spite of the heavy clouds over the coastal range. When we got to the flight club there were clouds in all directions but south. Perfect. We would take off south, continue that way until we got around the clouds over the mountains, then head west to the coast to see what we could see there. We'd fly along the coastline and view the cement ship and whatever else caught our fancy, then come back. A simple flight, not a cross country, but it felt right.

And it was, the flight went very well. I flew well, I flew the plane with the confidence of my long training. Katie is a fantastic co-pilot. She helped me spot traffic and didn't talk when I needed quiet. She quietly enjoyed the flight and pointed out spots on beaches where she's camped and surfed. She also quickly figured out we had a strong headwind as we flew south... she noticed the cars on the highway were keeping up with us :)  She told me we would have a tailwind coming home. I made sure to do easy climbs and descents so they wouldn't bother her ears and she didn't mind the small turbulence we got, as normal, coming back into the RHV area. Of course, she's been flying even longer than I have. She used to ride along on my husband's primary training flights! As I was flying she was texting her friends... "oh, just flying around Santa Cruz for fun" she says.

There's so much more I could share... the various shapes of the high and low clouds. The fun of flying around them. Being the person flying the plane along the shoreline instead of the earthbound person watching the plane. Deciding the altitude and direction I'd fly... on the fly. Looking at the shapes of the hills, knowing the direction of the winds and predicting the interaction of the two.. correctly. Being able to put the plane exactly where I want it to be. Holding the altitude I wanted... figuring out 95 knots is 2300 RPM between 3000 and 5000 ft MSL. Controlling my airspeed coming back into RHV airspace (something I've struggled with in the past) and even landing a good landing in windy conditions. I felt little pieces of my training clicking into place on that flight. 

All the while my daughter took it in stride. Of course I was PIC of the plane she was in... as she explains to her friends, "my parents are pilots". Both mother and father are pilots. I love the fact that my daughter is uncaring of the old prejudices that used to keep women from even thinking they could fly, and if a woman was bold enough to think she could... others would tell her no. My parents, my mother, never gave me the impression I should be any more or less capable than anyone else because of my gender. My own grandmother was a WASP in World War II and later a math teacher. Not surprising that I'm a pilot now. I hope to give my own daughter the same sense that what she will become is not limited by her gender, her only limits are the ones she creates. Those limits can be challenged and changed.

After landing I made sure to wish the tower and ground control Happy Thanksgiving.  I taxied back and Katie helped me secure the plane. Then we went inside the club to relax. I saw my CFI there and told him that flight made all of the hours of training worth it. He looked surprised at that. I suppose I didn't say it well.... the hours of training gave me that flight with my daughter before she outgrows her mom and dad and leaves us behind. The hours of training gives me the capability and privilege to fly. There will be many more flights like this one to come. Many more people for me to fly with and share the wonder with... and times when I'll fly by myself.  I am now one of the few people in the world who can climb into a machine and fly! That is worth every minute of training, study, joy and frustration.

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for.... and I am. I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

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