It was a hot, gusty, nasty June day. Winds all over Kansas were twenty to thirty knots, sweeping the Great Plains like a giant vacuum cleaner. I had chosen this day a week before, not knowing what the future would bring. I was there as the result of a string of events, beginning the day I landed my Tri-Pacer in a forty knot wind, only to have a gust flip it on its back while taxiing to the hangar. Now I had replaced it with a Cherokee. This little Indian was not a hard bird to fly, but my insurance company had ordered me to do penance for allowing my last aircraft to be rolled into a ball of tangled wreckage. I was to obtain five hours of dual instruction before they would take on the risk I represented.
I was anxious to finish the ordeal and take home my new toy, so I scheduled the five hours for the first day I could find an available instructor. I had already wasted a week of vacation when the purchase was delayed by paperwork. I arrived early and met the instructor for the first time. He said he figured I must be a masochist, wanting to do all five hours in one day. Taxiing out for the first takeoff he added that it was too bad I had picked an instructor who didnít care if he lived or died. I went about my flying, trying not to think of the implications of what I was getting myself into. The first hour wasnít bad. We climbed above the heat and turbulence into the cool, smooth heavens, where flying was a pleasure. I demonstrated the maneuvers he requested, not difficult with my twenty three years of practice and an airplane that was a joy to fly. I managed to stay somewhat in control on the steep turns. The stalls were fun, with the Cherokee and its STOL kit giving us a nice buffet followed by a gentle drop. I was having fun.
Then it was back to the airport where my new friendís maniacal side would begin to surface. Runway one nine was aligned directly into the wind and we began a series of touch and goes. I began to get a feel for the aircraft and was doing fairly well, but each successful landing let complacency grow and I would let some detail slip, a waiting target for him to jump on. A half hour later he decided I wasnít "suffering enough" and asked me to switch to runway one five, with a forty degree crosswind. I held up fairly well, making some fair landings, and several more we could walk away from, but not showing the consistency he or I was looking for. He asked if I was getting tired, but I refused to admit that I was. Two could play this game. Another four touch and goes and we mutually agreed to a lunch break. Stepping out of the torture chamber, the wind hit me and I realized for the first time that the back of my shirt was soaking wet.
The break was a short fast food meal, and it was fine with me that I didnít have much time to think about my short term future. Session two was a tour of three of Kansas Cityís nearby airports. My slave master sat beside me, his devious mind obviously cooking up any surprises that could make my life difficult. Then it was back to our departure airport for more torment. A few times around the pattern and my performance became totally abhorrent. He said, "Youíre getting tired." and this time I knew there was no way I could deny it. My devastated condition was completely transparent. He had won. We took another break. Only and hour and three tenths of my sentence remained.
The shortness of the remaining session was my only consolation. My teacher said he still had some surprises for me. We were off to Topeka's Forbes Field for more touch and goes. The wind was worse than ever. The thirty knots of ugly, gusting wind swirling across the surface was making life difficult for everyone, especially me. Surviving the first landing attempt, my partner turned to me with an evil grin on his face. "Tell the tower weíll be staying awhile," he said, "I like the wind here." My landings ranged from mediocre to embarrassing. His reaction varied from indifference to disgust, several times having me stop in the middle of the runway for a lecture. He let me know I was starting to "tick him off."
Agonizingly slowly the clock wound its hands around and it was over. The instructor had done his job. Thirty-four landings later I had been impressed with the seriousness of aviating. I had been shown that I could fly professionally and safely in less than ideal conditions if I tried. I had also been shown that if I let my guard down, I could be a danger to myself and everyone around me. He wasn't sure if I knew how to fly the airplane in anything but a hurricane as we went our separate ways.
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"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
-- Matthew 11:29 --
Read dozens more stories like this in the book Confessions of a Pilot.