A small black plate is riveted to the cockpit’s interior next to my head. It reads, “No acrobatic maneuvers, including spins, approved.”
Right. I’ll keep that in mind. From where I’m sitting, it’s nothing but gauges. There must be hundreds of them, needles twitching, numbers recording countless vital statistics. This is my first flight lesson and I’ve known them for maybe 10 minutes. If that one tilts past 30, you’re in trouble. If that one is below 60, you’re in trouble. I don’t know what those two mean, but the instructor tells me they’re not important right now. Above all of them, the windscreen is nothing but gray-blue, the sky shining through the blur of the propeller. The runway is somewhere out there, just barely visible below the plane’s nose. My headset pops. It’s the instructor, sitting in the seat next to mine, a million miles away. “Go ahead and give it full throttle.”
I push the plunger and the engine roars, the propeller tears at the air, drags us forward. The Cessna skips down the runway like an 8-year-old playing hopscotch. It really, really wants to fly and it’s in the air within seconds, screaming up into the ether with its tail cocked to the right like a hunting hound. The yoke jerks as the 2,550-pound plane ricochets through low-level turbulence. There is no time to think about keeping my cool. I’ve got a plane to fly and right now it’s bouncing around like a ping-pong ball in a washing machine. I refer to the gauges—make sure that one stays level, make sure that other one doesn’t spin around too fast. My instructor’s voice creeps into my head, via the headset. It tells me to trim this, watch that, keep ‘er steady. My stomach is back there on the runway and my heart is racing ahead of us, somewhere over the right wing. My mind desperately wants to stay in the air; my body wants to stay earthbound. My arms are like steel cables; my hands are ice, frozen to the yoke.
The plane gets comfortable at around 2,000 feet, relaxes and actually begins tosoar. I level it off and feel that curious pseudo-weightlessness that comes after a long ascent. All my organs return to their proper spots and I take the Cessna’s lead and relax. I look down. The world is a patchwork quilt of farms, housing developments and industrial parks. The euphoria in the cockpit is palpable. We’re flying—nothing can touch us and everything down there is microscopic. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had and it only cost me 50 bucks.