Flying Solo

Chapter One, Forest Glen, Oregon
March 1995

“What do you mean?” Chris exclaimed to Debbie. “Your father can’t be blaming us! We did everything we could to try to find him! We didn’t do anything wrong!”
Her eyes awash in tears, Debbie said, “I know, Chris. But he is blaming us.”

Chapter Two, Milltown, Seventy-five Miles North of Forest Glen
Nine months earlier

“Set the power to seventy-five percent and perform a power-on stall,” Chris heard the flight examiner say.

He had practiced them with his instructor a few times, but wasn’t expecting to have to do it for the private flight exam. He wasn’t even sure it was a required maneuver in a private pilot check ride.

Forty-five hours of costly flight time and endless hours of study entitled Chris to this opportunity to prove his pilot skills. Sweat trickled down his face. His hands tightened on the control wheel.

If he didn’t get this right, the whole checkride would go down the drain. Crap! Why hadn’t he reviewed it yesterday with Wally? An airplane can become squirrely when allowed to get into the extreme conditions of a power-on stall.

“Son, did you understand my instructions? The check ride will soon be finished, but first you need to perform a power-on stall.” Thomas, the flight examiner, focused his eyes on Chris.

With rivulets of sweat now running down his sides, Chris replied, “Yes sir. I was just collecting my thoughts about how to perform it.” He did a clearing turn to make sure no other aircraft was below. Gingerly, he moved the throttle to seventy-five percent power setting and pulled back on the yoke to raise the nose of the airplane.

The stall warning horn blared in his ear as the airspeed dropped, clear indication the airplane was about to stall. In this extreme condition, the airplane could easily enter a spin. It’s about to happen; keep your feet ready on the rudder pedals, he reminded himself,  and your hands light on the wheel. Be ready to level out the airplane if a wing starts to drop.

Rapidly, the left wing dropped below the horizon. This thing is going into a spin if I don’t do this right! He pushed the yoke forward to get the airplane’s nose well below the horizon and skillfully rolled the control wheel right to level the wings. The airplane responded to his effort and began flying again. Chris released a whew sound as he began breathing again. His soaked shirt clung to him.

Though just nineteen years old, he had worked hard at the airport all summer in order to afford the remaining flight lessons needed to complete the requirements for a private pilot license. But in his mind, it was just the beginning. He planned to gain entrance into the world of flying “big equipment,” or what is known to earth-bound people as airliners. Today would complete the first step in a long journey.

“Let’s head back to the airport,” was all Thomas said.

Thomas didn’t say anything about what had just happened. Not a good sign. All of the study, effort, and money he had put into this, and now to have blown it on the last thing the examiner asked him to perform.

His beautiful landing at the airport was what pilots call a squeaker. Chris knew he could fly the airplane as a private pilot, but he surmised the examiner thought differently.

“Taxi to the ramp and park it in the third space from the end, then do a normal shut-down of the aircraft,” Thomas said.

Chris followed the instructions, setting the parking brake last. Inside, he had a deep, sinking feeling of failure.

“Okay, bring your logbook and meet me in my office, through the door right there.” Thomas pointed to the door as he got out of the airplane. Nothing more was said as Thomas headed to his office.

Chris climbed out, welcoming the cool breeze on his hot, sweat-drenched shirt. He ran his hand through his thick, brown hair, then wiped it on his pant leg, getting rid of some of the sweat. Chalking the wheels, he grumbled to himself. CRAP! He had just blown the check ride. Dang it, Chris!

Looking down at his feet with shoulders slumped, he trudged toward the door, logbook in hand. He dreaded what was coming next.

How could he have been so stupid as to not practice power-on stalls again with Wally before the check ride? He heaved a big sigh. Stupid, stupid, STUPID, Chris! He knew even if he was right about power-on stalls not being required for the private check ride, what difference would it make? If he didn’t pass today it’d cost him a lot of money to get the extra instruction he’d need.

Chris opened the office door and shuffled into the room.

“Take a seat,” Thomas said, with what looked like a smirk on his face.
Is he enjoying doing this to me?

“I’ll be with you in just a moment—gotta get some coffee after that checkride. Would you like something to drink?”

Chris plunked down into the closest chair. “Naw. I don’t feel much like drinking anything right now. I’d rather just get the bad news and get outta here.”

Thomas turned to look at Chris. “Bad news?” he said, with his head cocked to one side. “What bad news?”

“Well, the power-on stall didn’t go very well, and I’m guessing you’re not going to pass me –”

Thomas chuckled. “You’re right about it almost getting away from you, son, but maybe the news isn’t as bad as you’re expecting. I’m going to grab something to drink, and I’ll be right back.”

17 thoughts on “Flying Solo

  1. Cat Lumb says:

    I echo what others have said – it’s well written and I like your character: but yes, Chapter 1 did need to go because of the shortness.

    The only constructive feedback I can add not already mentioned is that I wasn’t convinced that Chris has failed and so the worry at the end seemed a bit melodramatic. It felt like a typical ‘fake out’ by the instructor and because the stall didn’t actually seem to go wrong it just felt like Chris was psyching himself out a bit too much (although, this might be, as someone else said, that I have no idea what WOULD happen if it went into a spin or what might have gone wrong).

    Other than that, the thoughts by Chris in first person did jolt me out of the narrative a bit – but I suspect that if they were italicised as internal thoughts usually are in texts like this it didn’t come out in the formatting.

    Interesting start to a novel and I’m intrigued as to why Chris wants to fly, he’s well written and the description of his nerves was nicely done. Keep up the good work! Good luck.

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Cat. You touched on something I hadn’t really thought much about before–having been a pilot myself, I tend to “fill in” some of the implications of flying. And so the “spin” thing does need a bit more with it to make the point. I’ll take care of that.

      The internal thoughts do look different when not in italics, don’t they. Do bad we can’t have those effects in the format Ellen is using.

      Good luck to you, too.

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