Lesson 3

We did stalls today.

The first stall scared me. We lost speed, we climbed, and then suddenly we were plummeting in a real stomach-churning drop. It felt like we’d never stop. But we did. We bottomed out and Tom resumed our climb. The plane was no worse for wear.

During the stall, the plane reminded me of a boat. Just as a raft dips down a rapid and then regains its equilibrium, so does the plane hit the top of a stall and fall, fall, fall until the pilot steadies her out and regains speed and altitude. Stalling is like being on white water rapids, but in the air.

As I say, it scared me. Not mortally. But I hadn’t expected there to be such a drop, and I didn’t know when the plummet would end. It reminded me of what I dislike most about commercial flights, and in particular, one I took with my wife and son not long ago to return us home from Rome. One minute we were coasting along, and the next we simply dropped from the sky. I remember the soda flying out of the cup on my wife’s tray table. It went up in the air as if in slow-motion and hung there for what felt like several beats. I could have inspected every individual drop.

But this drop wasn’t unplanned. This was a deliberate demonstration of how the plane reacts when the airflow over the wings becomes too insignificant to power the plane. And though I was scared, Tom’s confidence, and my confidence in him, assured me there was nothing to worry about. This dramatic behavior was not even that dangerous, and easily corrected if you knew how. In a way, though I was scared, I could see how a lot of fear-inducing behavior that kept me white-knuckled in the past wasn’t much more than the expected performance of an airborne vehicle. I could even kind of see how the demonstration would give me greater courage in the future. With knowledge comes power, and I was getting to know the airplane.

Still, my attention was divided between Tom’s instructions and my visceral reaction to the experience of the stall, and so I had trouble when it came to executing my own. I was still too timid for my liking, afraid I’d maneuver too quickly or sharply and send us on a spin, or a dive, or whatever. I must have had four or five tries and each one was, compared to Tom’s boat going over a rapid, pretty much like a little speed bump.