This morning, I resolved to have a better day than yesterday. I began by sleeping an hour later (until 5:30AM instead of 4:30AM), getting a huge, delicious coffee (I rarely drink coffee), and talking through pre-flying-school jitters with Tyler on the way to class. Once there, I shadowed Joe for a bit, listening to his instructions, watching the others take off, and asking a zillion questions.
Once everyone was circling the airfield or practicing kiting, Joe asked me if I wanted to do a tandem flight. My answer was a resounding YES. Part of my perpetual nervousness stemmed from the fact that I had no idea what it was like up in the air. Would I be scared? Would I even like it? I wanted my first solo to have as few surprises as possible.
I hopped in front with Joe behind me, and away we went!
Up in the air, safe with an instructor, I could see hundreds of feet below me, and vast landscapes ahead, looking like a world in miniature. By the time we landed, my apprehension was transformed to exhilaration.
With a tandem flight under my belt, I was eager to continue learning. Unfortunately, there wasn't a foot-launch paramotor my size to practice on! Both of the BlackHawk 125s were in the shop getting a once-over after the problems we had last night on Tyler's maiden flight. In the meantime, he was practicing with a heavier paramotor I wasn't interested in trying.
Not wanting me to miss out, Joe asked if I wanted to try taxiing in "the quad"—a little four-wheeled go-cart contraption with a paramotor on the back. From the moment I sat in its low seat and set my feet on the simple steering mechanism, I was sold.
While I knew I could get the hang of foot-launching (given access to the right equipment), it was honestly a relief to do something that was comfortable and fun from the get-go. I loved it immediately!
With two major components of launch taken care of for me (running, and carrying a heavy motor), I was able to get a better handle on how to manage my brake toggles, throttle, and the A-risers (which bring up the glider). By the end of our morning session, with Tyler kindly acting as my pit crew (running around like a madman to set out my glider or move it from the end of the runway back to the beginning), I was successfully taxiing all the way down the field!
In the evening, I got ready to do more taxiing, with the potential for flight. I knew that if I taxied well down the runway, Joe would tell me "full throttle, full throttle" and I'd take off. If I didn't, he'd tell me to kill the motor, and I'd begin taxiing again. I was nervous as hell, but followed Joe's instructions over the radio to a T. My second taxi went well, and so I sped faster and faster and soon I was lifting off the ground, sailing up, up, and over the trees.
As my little flying car rose in the sky, the landscape around me changed rapidly. Below, people, trees, campers, cars, and houses shrunk and kept shrinking. Expansive golden vistas spread out like a topographical map. New Hogan Lake pooled between the hills, and shimmered in the sunset. I was flying! By myself!
These moments of awed calm flip-flopped frequently with moments of gut-churning nervousness. Oh shit. I was three hundred feet in the air. I was busy keeping hold of the brake toggles, hoping to make smooth turns, and trying not to get freaked out in small bouts of choppy air. All the while, Joe's voice crackled in my ear over the radio, telling me what to do, telling me I was okay. My heart was racing.
And then I'd take a breath and look out over the lake and hills, and I'd be in calm awe once more. Flying was a kind of magic, pulled from the pages of children's books. The words "straight on 'til morning" from Peter Pan echoed through my mind, and I found myself choked up, moved nearly to tears by my newfound perspective on the world. If I'd had enough fuel, I could have flown into the sunset.
After a flight that felt both enormously long and incredibly brief, Joe told me it was time to land. Of course, I was terrified, but he coached me through the whole process.
When my four wheels touched down and I flared the glider to a stop, laughter rose within me and bubbled out uncontrollably. I unbuckled my seat belt and just sat there, laughing at the absurdity of what I'd just done, as Tyler ran over to snap photos and kiss me, our helmets' mouthpieces getting in the way of each other. Had I really just flown? In the SKY?! Hell yeah! Moments later, Joe arrived at my landing site, greeting me with a high five, a big hug, and the gratifying praise of a proud teacher.
Thank goodness the most nerve-wracking part of this whole flying adventure is behind me, at last. I can't wait to get more comfortable in the quad tomorrow!
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.Leonardo da Vinci