It’s 1976: Torrance Airport, near the coast of greater Los Angeles. I taxi to the tiedown area; my instructor gets out and says, “Okay, take her around the patch.”
Gulp. Today? Right now? Don’t I need another hour or two?
Seeing my expression, he says, “Don’t worry; you’re ready.”
He gives last-minute instructions; I taxi out, do the run-up drill, get clearance and lift off. My heart is pounding like a herd of mustangs. Okay, I think, if the engine quits, I can land there...there...and there...600 feet—good, more emergency options now.
Crosswind, then downwind in the pattern, feeling okay...
something ahead! Whew! Just a kid’s red party balloon that flashes by not 10 feet from the cockpit. Nearly jumped out of my skin on that one.
Onto base and final to find a sudden and strong left crosswind. I fly in a crab to stay lined up, kicking left rudder just before touchdown, and we’re down.
Only one thing as my instructor critiques me: I used an entirely different technique than he had taught me for the crosswind landing! In my nervousness, I had reverted to the crab technique I had learned flying hang gliders. Oops. Well, I got through it at least.
I’ve always gotten through it, in fact. I will here, too, because I’ve practiced, I’m thinking ahead, and I know what I’m doing. (I repeat this mantra excessively, à la Al Franken’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”)
The day is spectacular. Afternoon sunlight, kissing the distant ocean expanse off southern Connecticut’s coast, renders the water into a blinding, hard jewel. There’s not a cloud, nor, inexplicably, another airplane to be seen. The sky is all mine, and I’m not complaining.
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