Monday, October 27, 2008

My little Co-Pilot Maggie!

During my flight training, my daughter Maggie & wife Meg would come by. They'd watch me pre-flight, and Maggie loved looking inside the airplane. "Can I go with daddie?" she'd inquire with a smile. Each time I had to sadly deny her. "Sorry sweetie, daddie can't take you with him yet." She'd look down, a six year old not comprehending why she couldn't go.

The time had finally come, and I made plans to take her up on Monday. She had it off due to teacher workday (which for K-3rd grade, I'll never understand why they need such a day). Winds were expected to be higher, so I opted to go on Sunday instead. Maggie was very excited to finally be going with me! "We're going up with the birds daddie?"

Today was finally the day. Calm winds prevailed as we pulled into the airport. I noticed my classmate Mike's car was there. As far as I know, the only other remaining active student from my class. Sad that 8 students started, only 2 of us remained. I strolled in, greeted Mike and he reached down and gave my daughter a hug. I told him I'd been waiting to see his name on the board, and he informed me he took a break for two months. I can certainly understand that! As I grabbed the headsets and the "can" (has the keys, hobbs, and inspection info to the plane), I began walking out with Maggie. Mike looked back puzzled... "You two going out together?" I quickly nodded, and explained I got my PPL two weeks ago. I could tell Mike was shocked! We both always figured he'd finish before me! "Congrats" he chipped as the door swung closed.

It was about 60°F at the plane, and Maggie being in shorts and t-shirt was cold. "Don't worry sweetie, it'll be warm in the plane!" After I checked the outside, I boosted her up inside. Hmmm, my concern for her visibility was warranted, as the seat sunk so low, she couldn't see out the canopy. I grabbed the aircraft cover, folded it, and placed it under her. "I can see now daddie!" I grabbed the headset and found, amazingly, that it fit just fine. She wasn't surprised at all to hear herself in the headphones!

Starting the noisy engine didn't bother her a smidge. We taxied out, waving to Mike pre-flighting the DA-40, as we did. So far Maggie was handling it all very well. The real test would be to come though. After a full run up, I look over at Maggie, and ask her "So you ready to fly sweetie." She smiled and without words let me know she was ready! I move out onto the runway and begin the take-off roll. I wanted to make it as smooth as possible, as I didn't know how her tummy would feel. I find I let the plane "tell me" when it's ready to rotate, contrary to looking at airspeed. You'd be amazed how quickly you learn to feel the airplane just so. Right around 55knots she smoothly lifted off. A few seconds after, Maggie asks me "When are we going to be flying." To which I respond, "look out the window there..." I could hear the excitment in her voice "Wow, cool....look daddie, there's a river!"

I stuck to the pattern, so I could judge how she'd handle decents and turbulence. So far there was a little bit of bumping, but not too much. Meg certainly had it easier when she flew with me. While downwind Maggie was chattering away, asking questions on where our house was, making general statements about what she saw... I was very pleased that she was enjoying the ride!

The first landing wasn't perfect. My airspeed was a bit higher than it should be. I touched briefly, and then up again then a soft landing. I have to adjust for this colder air, she reacts more quickly to every command, and is less forgiving with excess airspeed. In any case, my little copilot was oblivious to anything being wrong, and just stared out the window. "We on the ground again Daddie, I can see the airplanes."

As any would, Maggie wanted to go see our house. Once we got overhead, I did a steep ground reference turn over it. "Our house is right there," pointing out to my left. "Can you see it?" Maggie shook her head. She could see all the buildings, but I could tell she didn't know how to recognize it. I turned around and did a steep turn to the right, hoping that would give her a better view. Still, no luck.

I headed out towards Washington-Warren field. I figured the practice area would be a good place to give my co-pilot some flying time. "You want to fly the airplane Maggie?" "Uh-huh" I gestered her to grab the flight stick. "Ok, if you want to turn left, move the stick left, fly right, move it to the right. So which way you want to go?" She wanted to go left, manning the rudder, I followed her left ward movement. "Alright! Your flying the airplane sweetie!" She did it nice and smoothly. "Ok now to fly straight again you have to move the stick the other way until we're flat again..." She moved the stick back to nuetral, but didn't quite move it right enough to turn us back. I got us level, and let her turn right. Of she went, and this time she got us in a nice 15° bank, and return the stick to center! "Good job!" I decreed, a natural!

Next up, climbs and decents... To keep it simple, though I dislike phrasing it this way, I told her to push forward to go down, pull up to go up. Still reaching out, she pulled the stick back, "We going up daddie!" Next she moved forward and down we went. I had the throttle pulled back to keep our airspeed stable, and we slowly decended to 1500'. I took over and climbed back up to 2000' and let her have the controls, this time letting her do any movement she wanted. "I like going down!" I chuckled and watched her pitch down and descend.

I took over and continued to Washington, where the scenery was better, and to get in a few landings at another airport. By this time I could see Maggie was getting either tired, or her tummy was bothering her. She said she was just tired, but I figured her tummy had enough for the first flight. So we headed back over to Greenville. Came in, negotiated pattern traffic (Mike was finally taking off. Wonder why he took so long to get off the'd been an hour since he'd begun his preflight. In any case, we come in and I give the smoothest landing all day. We park and after shutting down, breath the fresh air as the canopy opens. I could see Maggie was glad to get out and move around.

So overall, a good flight, and what I hope is a good experience for Maggie! How many six year olds can claim to have stick time in an airplane! She did really well, never getting sick, and handling the steep turns and turbulence like a pro! I look to the future and see a solid copilot, and one day a pilot in her own right...if she chooses!

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