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. Kathy says:

    As a pilot who is married to a pilot, I love to read about flying. I think your chapter one is way too short. I’d describe the crash and attempts to find the plane. In chapter two, Chris has 45 hours. Stalls are easy. Make him a very new 8 hr pilot and have him soloing instead. That’s when I whooped and sweated at the same time! Looking forward to reading the rest.

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for your input. Boy, it’ll be valuable to have you look at what I submit. I’m a “has-been” pilot, so accessing my knowledge of flying means needing to reach back more years than I care to reveal.

  2. Laura Evans says:

    The chapters one right after the other made me pause and wonder why. Maybe you could have that as a prologue?.

    I like the story, its captivating. The only thing that felt a bit off was the use of the word “stall” constantly.

    🙂

    I hope that helps!

    • Jim says:

      Good catch about the two quick paragraphs. I was trying to see if “foreshadowing” would work to get the reader into a deeper problem about mid-way through the story. I don’t think it’s going to work.

      “Stall” is a technical term in aviation, but I see what you’re saying. I’ll try to reduce use of the word. Good comment.

      Thanks for your help.

  3. calgal says:

    Hi! I know nothing about flying, and found this fun to read. I was already rooting for Chris, and definitely would keep reading. I agree with the other reviewers – the short Chapter 1 doesn’t buy you anything, and it’s an overused device. Starting the book with the flight test pulls the reader right into the story. If you can avoid using the word “stall” so often, it would be helpful.

    Finally, you mention repeatedly that the plane could go into a spin during the power-on stall (you could actually cut at least one of those references — we get it); other than that, we don’t know what IS supposed to happen during that maneuver. I’d love it if you could think of a clever way to make it clear to those of us who don’t fly. Good work!

  4. Jim says:

    Thanks for your helpful inputs. I’m paying attention and will make the necessary changes. Glad you found Chris “likeable.”
    Thanks,
    jim

  5. Leah McKinnon says:

    I liked the beginning – there’s a few questions to be answered (who is missing, why are they missing…. ). I didn’t feel much connection with any of the characters in the first chapter though and I thought it ended too soon.The second chapter was intense and I could identify with the nervous 19-year-old pilot trying to pass an exam. If I thought the whole book was going to include flight terminology I might not read it though.

  6. 10penguins says:

    I don’t think you need Chapter One (which reads more like a prologue). I think if you had skipped Chapter One and went straight into the flying of Chapter Two, I would have gotten into Chapter Two immediately. But, I was looking for “Debbie” and the person you referred to as “him” to also be in Chapter Two. I was confused when they weren’t. I like your character Chris and I love books about flying. “Up and At ‘Em” by Harold E. Hartney is one of my favorite books of all time.

  7. Jim says:

    Thanks. The first chapter was a clumsy attempt to foreshadow a crucial happening about half way into the book. I’ve now edited it out of the manuscript–primarily due to feedback like you’ve provided.

    And your comment about the whole book containing flight terminology is right on. No, the story is much more about interrelationships and how they begin and then fail. There is other mention of flying, but it’s not the main thing in the book. Again, I appreciate your comments, as it helps me understand better what will work for the reader.

    Thanks,
    jim

  8. cbowers911 says:

    I think it would be best to have the contents of Chapter 1 as the prologue.

    I was immediately drawn into the main character as well as how the story will unfold. It would be hard to follow this book for those of us that are not familiar with aviation terminology. I think this book has great potential and I would be more than willing to purchase it once it hits Amazon.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, actually chapt 1 was a bad attempt at foreshadowing something that happens about half way through the story. I’ve since eliminated the short chapt 1.

      There is some aviation terminology sprinkled in the book, but it’s not full of it–that’s not the main story line. Rather, the story is really about Chris finding his way in life. It’s about interpersonal relationships being made–and lost.

      Thanks. Glad to know I have one buyer 🙂

  9. Rick Sherman says:

    I thought it was pretty good. I agree about the first chapter being a longer. There’s really nothing there that made me want to keep reading. Who are these characters? I’d find a way to give some more information. In chapter two, what kind of plane is it? Help us non-pilots to visualize it a bit better. What about the airport/landing strip? Where other planes parked so he had to jocky around them? I guess what I was a bit vague on, was it’s difficult to visualize something without at least some inkling of a foundation of description. All in all, I found it pretty good and would read chapter three in hopes of answering some of my questions. Good work!

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for your helpful critique, Rick. I’ll add in some description about the airport itself–good call! On the first chapter, yeah, it needs to be eliminated, and it has been since this was published. My editor didn’t like it, either.

      Thanks.

  10. Scott Sword says:

    As an also has been pilot I enjoyed your description of how it felt to be in the seat for the PP exam. You pretty much nailed my memories.

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