Taking Flight

Talk about cool stuff you have to do before you meet your maker, this is one of them.  Today I took a Discovery Flight, a one-hour opportunity to get your hands on the controls of a 172 Cessna and glide like a bird in the clear mountain air.  Way cool, definitely something everyone should consider!

My first and probably only lesson in flying required patience, something I am not known to be good at.  As you might know from previous blog posts I finally got to schedule my Discovery Flight in November and then the weather decided to act up.  We had to postpone and reschedule twice and so yet another two weeks went by before I finally got my chance.  It was worth the long wait.  Today was a gorgeous Rocky Mountain day, one of those mid winter treats that feels more like one of the first crisp fall days rather than a December morning. 

The lesson began at the Aspen Flying Club, a cool sounding place that I would love to hang out at more often.  “Aspen Flying Club, ya, let me in” I thought as I first walked through the doors.  My instructor was the owner of Taking Flight, Aaron Wexler and he greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake and I returned the favor and my Amelia Earheart adventure began.

As we talked down the row of single engine Cessna’s all carefully lined up like soldiers I was feeling pretty cocky and I was absolutely delighted when we stopped next to my ride for the morning a slick and fast looking little machine. 

Aaron and I easily chatted as he explained to me how the morning would go.  First, we do pre-flight check of the plane and all the equipment, and then he would explain procedures and the interior components of the plane.  Next we’d be off; ready to take off once we had the ok of the control tower.  I would get to handle take off (with his close supervision and help) and then I would get to try several maneuvers once we were in the air.  Aaron would handle the landing since that part was fairly complicated.  Sounded good to me!  I was excited to hear how much actually flying I was going to get to do!

 One of the first things Aaron asked me when we first met inside the Aspen Flying Club was “how tall are you?”  It seemed a bit odd at the time and I had noticed that he grabbed a couple of cushions before we headed outside, but as soon as I saw the plane I understood.  My short legs were going to be a problem here!  Aaron did the best he could and adjusted the seat first down, then forward.  Next he placed two plump cushions on the seat, one on the back and one on the seat.  He told me to climb on in and we’d see if this was going to work.  After a few more adjustments he decided I could just barely reach the pedals but that it would work. I had a flashback to being a 6-year-old kid sitting at the big people’s table on top of a gigantic phone book at my grandparent’s farm.  Not exactly a glamorous way to impress my new instructor with my natural flying abilities! 

Aaron showed me how to control the plane with the pedals and then turned the plane over to me as we taxied toward the runway.  I must have looked like a short drunken sailor from the control tower but I was game to give it a go.  After weaving around I finally started to get the hang of it.  One of the first things I realized was that my summer training on the wakeboard and ski surf had prepared me fairly well!  “My son and his friend Connor would be so proud of me now if they only knew” I thought as I finally started to straddle the yellow line and propel my small plane straight toward the runway.

As we took our place in line waiting for clearance from the tower I learned the difference between jets and single engine planes, I had a short lesson on using the radio and began to decipher the foreign language of the control tower jargon.  Next, the Flight for Life jet plane passed us and I learned that even on airplane runways you have to yield the right of way for emergency vehicles and ambulances.  Good to know!

As Aaron lined us up on the runway and the control tower gave us our final clearance my stomach flipped just a bit as Aaron said here we go!  He had us ready to roll and even more admirably had the courage to let me handle the controls as he fired up the engine.  It was so cool!  He had me count to one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three as I slowly and consistently pushed the throttle all the way in and simultaneously pulled back on the controls to raise the nose of the plane.  Before I knew it we were airborne and my brave instructor was directing me to level the nose out a bit as we began a slow bank to the right.  So this is how good old Amelia felt!  No wonder she loved flying.  Too cool!

Now that we were officially airborne I had my first chance to look around!  This was the coolest Birdseye view; it was hard to realize I was sitting in the co-pilots seat flying a plane-wow! 

Aaron had me follow some local landmarks as I directed the plane toward the foothills.   Next I got to bank the plane to the right and make a full right hand turn, the goal all the while was to keep the altitude steady at 7500 feet, I did pretty good.  Next we did the same toward the left.  I was amazed at how intuitive flying felt. After this success I started to feel really good, this was so darn much fun! 

Soon a flyover the beautiful Red Rocks provided some great picture taking opportunities and then we worked on a few more maneuvers.  Aaron had me try going up in altitude to 8000 feet and then down to 6500 feet.  Time went so fast and before I was ready it was time to head toward the airport for a safe landing.
(click on the link to see a video of Jackie flying over Red Rocks)
Jackie Flying Over Red Rocks

It was just as cool watching Aaron as he positioned us for a landing as it was taking off.  I started to understand the control towers jargon and was able to locate several other airplanes flying in the area.

As I spent the morning with my new friend Aaron I realized one of the things I have learned about myself is that I love being up high, hiking on a mountain top, rock climbing, skydiving or flying it doesn’t matter.  I seem to have a theme going on here and the more I do the more I like it.  Who knew?  Reflecting back on this revelation it dawned on me that in many ways I am like my mother, a wild spirit at heart.  My mother is the one who wanted to ride the bull at the rodeo but would have settled for a rousing adventure of barrel racing if she only could have.  This is the same woman who became first a nurse, then a pilot with my Dad and then a new career as a CPA.  She was always game for a new adventure or challenge and always managed to rise to the occasion.  I tipped my wings (just a teeny tiny bit) in her honor on my flight this morning.  Way to go Mom! I am honored to be an adventure seeker like you!

As the morning eventually came to an end I asked the first of two fateful questions of my instructor Aaron.  “So Aaron, how much do I have to win in the lottery to be able to come back and train for my actual pilots license?” I dared him to answer. 

He grinned as he told me “Well, in many ways it’s not as much as you might think.  I tell people it will cost you about $9,000 from start to finish.”

“Well, I will definitely come back and see you if I ever win big!” I enthusiastically promised him.

As a last thought I offered “I also think I am going to tell my daughter to hurry up and get famous so maybe she can fund my pilots license!” 

I think I will give her a call tonight!

“Um, Aaron, can you do this with a helicopter too” I dared to venture.  You can see where my mind was going.

“Yes, most people get their single engine license first and then do an add on for their helicopter license because that is more expensive.” He answered.

“I wonder if I can get a Discovery Flight lesson on a helicopter somewhere” I wondered to myself.   Hmmmm…. I wonder……

Once again, I had a great time on my grand adventure and I am so glad I took a Discovery Flight today with Taking Flight and Aaron Wexler.  Now I can cross one item off my list, but I also think I will have to add another item or two to my list, become licensed as a pilot and have a lesson flying a helicopter! It is a good thing I am starting early on this bucket list thing, I am adding items faster than I am crossing them off!

So my friend I ask you, “what’s next on your list?”

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  1. Susan Pfeiffer says:

    Sounds like fun! I’ve always been afraid of flying but I’d love to conquer my fear someday by trying this!! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Bucketlistblogger says:

      Susan it was really fun and I did not find the experience scary at all. I was amazed how fun it was! I would encourage you to give it a try you never know you just might like it too!

  2. vicki creigh says:

    What a cool adventure to have taken. I think that fact that your Mom likes adventures and you like adventures is a great connection the two of you have together. What a neat spirit to pass on to your children.