Photo by Tiffany Von
I’m afraid of flying.
I know that may seem like a strange confession to make considering that I fly often enough to practically count it as a hobby and I work for, you know, an AIRLINE…but well, I didn’t say that it made any sense.
It doesn’t matter how many “You’re more likely to get hit by a car/lightning bolt/flying squirrel” statistics I hear, I’m always convinced that my plane will be the exception to the rule. My plane will the one in a billion to run out of fuel or oxygen. My plane will be the one to lose a tail or a tire or whose pilot will fall asleep at the wheel and make an unannounced stop into the side of a mountain.
But. That all ends today. Because today is the day that I’m going to lay that fear to rest. Yes, today is the day that I’m going to learn how to pilot an airplane.
Well. Not exactly. Substitute the “I” in that sentence for a “Some dude” and the “airplane” for “a rinky-dink prop plane that looks like it couldn’t stay upright in a bathtub much less the air” and you’ll have my plan for overcoming my fear of flying.
See, I befriended a pilot back in Airline Boot Camp in Orlando and as it turns out, he works part-time as a flight instructor at an airfield a few miles from my house. Today one of his students will be practicing “emergency landings” and he invited me to come along for the ride.
Now, I’m not dumb. I’m fully aware that “emergency landing” is just the aviation industry’s polite way of saying “nosedive into a tree” but he assured me that we wouldn’t actually be crashing, just coming close to it. And that the guy in the pilot’s seat is “totally almost a real pilot” but that if something were to go wrong, my flight instructor friend would take control of the plane and fly us to safety.
I know that was meant to be reassuring but I’ve been flying with my flight instructor friend when something went wrong before…and let me tell you, there was nothing safe about it.
Because last month I rode with him while he piloted a flight simulator. A flight simulator is like one of those giant, vibrating 3-D rides you find in the arcade except it’s worth about 15 million dollars and rents for $800 an hour.
The inside is an exact replica of an airplane cockpit, except that it comes with a movie screen that projects life-like versions of every major airport in the world. The pilots use it to train and practice crash scenarios.
I’d thought that if I could learn a little bit more about what goes on in the cockpit and about the flight process in general, then maybe it would take a little of the mystery out of it and I’d be less afraid.
But in actuality it had the opposite effect. For starters, the flight simulator gives you one helluva realistic flight experience. It shakes, it sways and it pitches forward; enough so that about 10 minutes in, I was wishing I’d brought in an airsick bag. It was so true-to-life in fact, that you could hear the roar of the engine at takeoff, “feel” the landing gear fold back into the plane and actually see a flock of geese flying over the horizon.
But what made for an awesome simulated flight experience also made for one scarily accurate, simulated crash experience, as well. I was amazed at how quickly it can happen and how very little time the pilot and first officer have to react.
I guess I’d always thought that if I did find myself on an airplane when something went wrong (like if the plane’s engines failed, for example) that we’d be able to coast through the air for while; that somehow between the wind, the velocity and some fast manoeuvring on the part of the pilot, that we’d manage to drift paraglider-style, down to safety.
But apparently giant jumbo jets are too heavy for that. They need to maintain a high speed in order to remain airborne, (I know, who would have thought?) and without it…they crash. And they crash quickly. It only took a couple of seconds, for example, after one of the simulator engines conked out before the “plane” began to seesaw back and forth. And by the time my friend had realized what had happened, the second engine had died, we’d caught on fire and were nose-diving into a freeway. All he had time to do was curse and attempt a last ditch effort to swing the plane to the right before bam! we’d crashed head first into rush hour on the Long Island Express way. And the whole ordeal took 20 seconds, tops.
We crashed several times after that. Once into the Hudson River and another time upon attempting an “emergency landing” at JFK. We hit the runway too hard, which popped the tires and sent the plane spinning before it tipped over on it’s side and exploded.
So…you can understand why I’m a little nervous about placing my life into the hands of “some dude” I’ve never met (no doubt he’s some Richy Rich with a Howard Hugh’s complex). I mean, if I learned anything from the flight simulation experience, it’s that flying should be left to the professionals. Like the birds, for instance. Or Superman…
I’m pretty sure that my volunteering to take-part in a practice plane crash makes it official. I’m completely certifiable.