Thursday, June 11, 2009

Light-Sport Chronicles: Ghost Wings

Remembrance of flights past and lessons learned

lscEvery flight has ghosts, if you’ll see them. Mine come in those times when I need a little help to get me through a tough spot, or raise my perspective above ground level to reconsider the depth and breadth of the singular, incomparable joy we call flight.
" />
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.