Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gulu flight

Today I flew a news crew from Moroto to Gulu in the islander. We usually load the islander with the passengers seated in back and the copilot seat empty, leaving the pilot to enjoy the view in peaceful solitude. But sometimes we make exceptions. For example, if a passenger seems interesting to talk to on a long flight, or if they happen to be attractive. Today I had a passenger that met both of those criteria. For some silly reason I feel that automatically assigning the copilot seat to the pretty woman is an abuse of my authority as captain of a small aircraft. Therefore, I asked for a volunteer- "So, anyone want to be copilot?", thinking to myself “pretty lady, pretty lady…” and my wish was granted when she said "Yes, I'd love to!"

It was just a one hour flight. We began talking about jobs. She thought flying a small plane around Uganda was the coolest thing and wanted to know all about how I became a pilot, and how I came to Africa. So I told her my life story, which took about three minutes. Meanwhile, I was quite fascinated by her job- traveling around the world as a television news correspondent. I found it funny that we both thought our own jobs were nothing extraordinary but were fascinated by the other’s. So although were each very interested in the other’s profession, she won and we ended up spending most of the flight talking about airplanes and aviation.

I did the usual basic teaching stuff- a thumb and two fingers is all it takes to move the stick, gently pull on the stick and the nose comes towards you, pushing moves the nose away, and moving the stick left and right rolls the aircraft in and out of banks. I demonstrated each of these as I talked about them, then gave her the controls. It is amazing, I’ve probably done that a thousand times in my 7000+ hours of flying and instructing, yet it is still such a great thing to see someone fly an airplane for the first time! Her response was typical- her eyes were full of excitement and her smile was huge as she saw the airplane gently respond to her small control inputs. I still remember the first time someone let me do that, so I can understand people’s amazement with their first experience of flying an airplane.

She flew for quite awhile while she asked many other questions- how do we navigate, what causes turbulence, why do planes crash, and so on. Soon we were descending into Gulu. I took the plane and explained what I was doing as we went through the approach and landing. The runway is huge, so even after landing long we still had a ways to go to reach parking. So I kept some power in the engines to give us just enough speed and airflow to keep the nose up as we rolled down the runway for a few thousand feet. She asked “when does the nose come down?” just as we got slow and the nosewheel gently touched.

After landing, she was on the phone immediately- they had a lot to coordinate for their story. But I also overheard her saying “I flew the plane!” When she was off the phone she went on to say she no longer feared flying and wanted to learn to fly herself.

That was a good flight!

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