Lesson 6

With gusts reaching a possible 10 knots, it was too windy to do more landings, which was disappointing. But no one’s in control of the wind.

As we waited for the FAA to finish a routine inspection of the Piper Cherokee, Tom and I talked weather. He showed me what’s important to look for on the computer: the visibility, cloud coverage, and wind speed, along with general weather trends for our area. Whenever Tom talks about the weather, I’m reminded all over again—-the weather! Of course! It’s all about the weather: how we fly, ifwe fly. Yet it’s almost always an afterthought with me. I never ask: how strong is the wind? What’s its direction? How thick are the clouds and how low do they hang? What do I need to do, given these current conditions, to compensate when I’m in the plane? Etc. etc. No–I’m too preoccupied with the plane, how to lift off, how to land, how to keep us flying straight and level. Because I know Tom won’t let us fly in anything dangerous, I don’t concern myself with it. But if I didn’t have Tom, the weather would need to be topmost on my mind, right up there with the proper functioning of the aircraft.

Which brings me to something interesting that happened during Lesson 6. Tom & I had been up for about a half-hour when he pointed out that I was letting the right wing roll a bit. Nothing severe, but nevertheless a problem in need of correcting.

Now, an aside: over half a dozen lessons or so, I’ve diagnosed the plane with Attention Deficit Disorder. It will stray if I let it. Sometimes these changes are caused by the air; sometimes they’re caused by a maneuver I’ve set in motion. Either way it’s my job to correct them before they turn extreme. The longer I ignore the change, the more trouble I’m in. Tom calls this trending. You always want to be trending in the right direction; if you’re not, you correct. I’ve encountered few mistakes so far that can’t be corrected in a timely manner, as long as I’m attentive and know what I’m doing, which by this point, I sort of do.

So I’m trying to understand, then, why I did what I did when Tom informed me that the wing was rolling a bit. Maybe it was the unexpected way Tom said it, which seemed a bit more urgent than usual. Tom’s a calm presence up there, not easily fazed, but I thought I detected an immediacy on this occasion. And in response, I simply let go of the yoke. I didn’t think: correct! No. I thought: let Tom do it!

Tom saw me let go of the yoke and said, “Don’t let go!”

He could have added, “You idiot!” and I wouldn’t have taken offense.

He was being urgent, but in order to convey that I should have a sense of urgency about correcting an off wing. And what’d I do? Let go of the yoke.

There comes a time when, despite being a student, and despite having relied on Tom from day one to get us out of a jam, and despite Tom’s continued presence in the seat beside me, I can no longer depend on him. I should pretend he’s not even there. “Your passenger days are over,” he said when I asked him about it later. It’s not easy, because it requires a psychological adjustment, a weaning, that essentially demands that the student act as if the teacher is still on the ground, he can’t help you, you’re alone in the plane, you’re alone in the world, and everything–safety, control, getting back alive–is entirely up to you.