We went up without ceremony.
Whether to save time or to throw me into the mechanics right away, Tom gave me little in the way of theory or principle. There was no moment when he said to me, “This is the altimeter gauge. This is the air speed gauge. This is the rudder pedal. Here’s what the rudder does. Here’s what the aileron does. Here’s the difference between pitch and yaw. Here’s how you make the airplane climb. Here’s how you make it descend.”
Or maybe he did. I’m sure he must have done at least some of that. I just have no memory of it. There’s too much to take in on the first flight, too much to hold on to at any one time: instruments, gauges, the airplane’s concerted three-dimensional movements through the hydraulic medium of air. And it hardly matters that he only glancingly pointed out the particulars to me and that I have scant memory of it. For what would I have done with that knowledge?
In the air Tom was in control, but he gave me the illusion of occasionally moving us this way and that. I was annoyingly hesitant. What I touched, I thought, I would break. What I engaged I could not correct. What I set in motion I could not reverse. And so my foot only ever daintily depressed the rudder pedal. My hand only lightly pushed against the yoke. I was terrified of suddenly plunging us to our deaths. Sooner or later decisive action would be called for, but I’d be too busy giving the airplane a pedicure with a little back rub.
“How do you get comfortable flying an airplane?” I asked Tom later.
“You fly it,” he said.
I spent a total of an hour in the air. We did what Tom called “straight and level flight,” which required me to keep us on course, more or less. Then we did a turn or two and came down again. It was, in fact, an hour of ups and downs, an odd mix of the thrilling and the anticlimactic.