Lesson 2

During the preflight today, I made my first error. We had just drawn a sample of fuel from the right fuel tank and had eyeballed it for any water or impurities. After deciding it was clean, Tom instructed me to pour it back into the tank. I took the lid off the fuel-test cup and did so. Then I became aware of a change in Tom’s demeanor.

He was staring down at the wing, confused.

“Uh … what did you do that for?”

“Do what?”

“Remove the lid.”

I looked at the lid for the fuel tester. It was as much filter as lid, catching any impurities from the sample so they wouldn’t end up in the engine. I had no memory of taking it off, and no explanation for why I had done so.

“I have no idea,” I said.

He stared a while longer, doing some mental calculations, then returned to being the teacher.

“First time for everything,” he said. “We’ll just have to retest the tank in a little while to make sure it’s clear.”

But the error lingered, at least for me. Why had I drawn that lid off when Tom did not ask me to? What other intuitions, bearing not the least trace of mental deliberation, would I enact with casual certainty despite their blunder, and would they come at more crucial junctures–like, say, in the air? The simplest mistake in flying becomes outsized in the mind because it suggests the ease with which you can make future errors.

And this is the same person Tom put in charge of takeoff. After we complete our checklist and taxi to the runway, he said to me, “Ok, you’re going to be doing most of the work today to get us up in the air.”

I didn’t know how that could be possible, but with his help, we raced down the runway, lifted the nose in the air, and took off. It was exhilarating. The golf courses, the lakes, the trees, the sky.

But it soon became a little overwhelming. I’m still a novice with a novice’s lack of feel for things and his gaping ignorance. With the added responsibility given to me today compared to the first flight (though it’s still not much, relatively speaking) I realized how complicated flying can be. As we were landing, Tom seemed to have as many hands as Doctor Octopus, using them to pull levers and slow the plane and touch down gracefully. My goal is a solo flight, but I had the palpable sense that I might not be able do it.

Next week is a new lesson. Who knows how I’ll feel then? Every time I go up it’s an entirely different emotion.