Monday, September 10, 2007

Family Flying 2 - Nana

When I arrived in Maine on the Saturday before Labor Day, I found my grandmother at my parents' house. My grandmother is a remarkable woman, fearless, energetic, funny, creative, a brilliant conversationalist. When I brought up the idea of going flying the next day, she was first in line.

About thirty years ago, my uncle got his pilot's license and flew for a while. He gave it up not long after he got his license, though I don't know why. My grandmother had flown with my uncle, though the only story she's told me is the one about how my uncle couldn't find the airport to land. She also got caught once in a storm on one of Maine's islands and was flown to the mainland in the mail plane, but that was at least 15 years ago. So while flying in a small plane was not exactly new to her, it had been a while.

She and I drove to the airport ahead of everyone else and I checked out a newer 172SP. I did a thorough preflight and gave my grandmother a good preflight briefing. Before long, we were at the end of Runway 14, ready to go. I asked her if she was ready, and she said she was, so I pushed in the throttle and we began rolling.

Engine gauges looked good, power good, airspeed alive, twenty knots, thirty, forty knots, fifty..... We were just shy of rotation speed when my grandmother decided to adjust her position in her seat. Looking for something to pull herself up with, she grabbed . . . the yoke. And pulled.

"DON'TTOUCHTHAT! DON'T . . . TOUCH . . . THAT!" I yelled through the intercom, pushing against the yoke as she pulled. She let go, and two seconds later we passed rotation speed and were climbing away from the airport. She hadn't yet said anything in response to my shrieking. "I thought this was a collaborative venture," she finally said, and I burst out laughing. She was obviously chagrined, and I still feel awful for yelling at my Nana, of all people, but it was a dangerous situation. If I hadn't had the presence of mind to push on the yoke as she pulled, it might have been a very short flight with a bad landing. My passenger briefings now include detailed and explicit instructions/reminders on what parts of the plane should not be touched.

I levelled off at 1,200 feet, about 1,000 feet above the ground, and let the plane accelerate to 120 knots or so. There was absolutely no turbulence. We flew 10 miles East to the coast, just South of the prohibited airspace around the elder President Bush's place in Kennebunkport, then turned South. I kept the plane at 1,000 feet and slowed to 80 knots, flying about 1/4-mile off the coast so my grandmother could see the beaches from her window. We flew South to Ogunquit, then I climbed to 2,000 feet and turned Northwest to head back to the airport, snapping this picture as we went.

There was a 5-knot crosswind as I landed on Runway 14, but my landing was about as perfect as they come. When I taxied back, I saw the rest of my family that had arrived and was waiting on the other side of the fence. They had all seen my good landing! I stopped the plane, shut down, and my grandmother said, "Well!"

Later that evening as we all sat around the table in a nearby Bonanza restaurant, I handed my logbook to my grandmother, turned to the "Notes" section in the back. Mirroring my own sentiments, she wrote:

"Greg, soaring with you in the clouds was wonderful. So special. Love, Nana."

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