I’ve never taken lessons to learn to drive a car, but I did have flying lessons. It is one of my quirks that I would excitedly and eagerly climb into the cockpit of a plane to soar into the air!
I learned how to do a safety check, takeoffs and landings, stall a plane to then recover along with other maneuvers. There is a sense of security piloting the craft. Unfortunately, I did not even get close to earning enough of the hours to achieve my Private Pilots license.
Despite my ease at learning to fly, you cannot get me onto a Ferris wheel or roller coaster. I’ve never believed the rides are safe! In 1987, when my son was 11, this conviction of mine would prove correct.
An old friend from the streets, Lee Anne, brought over her step-daughter, from Detroit, Michigan to spend the day with us. We took the ferry at Amherstburg, Ontario across the Detroit River to Boblo Island Park.
We had an enjoyable day until the children asked to go on the Roller Coaster. A young man herded the line of children into cars and pulled down metal bars across the children’s laps that were to serve two purposes. It was to ensure the passengers did not get thrown from the car and it was something for the frightened to grip. In horror, we watched as the metal bar flew up during the ascent of the first peak. I screamed, and Lee Anne and I pushed our way through the crowd to get to the ride attendant. Other people became aware of the danger the children were in, and the group soon joined us to beg the ride attendant to stop the ride.
He refused, saying he didn’t want to get fired for interfering with the ride! I was sick with fear watching my son and his companion holding desperately to the sides of the car. The train continued up and down the peaks with a stunned and desperate crowd praying for the safety of the two children. In what seemed an eternity the ride finally stopped, and Lee Anne and I were utterly stunned when the ride attendant screamed at the children accusing them of deliberately undoing the safety bar!
It wasn’t possible for the children to reach the safety latch, a man behind me insisted, and the ride attendant glared at him then said, “I’m not getting fired because a couple of kids unlocked the bar.” The man sternly replied, “You are going to have a lot more to worry about than your job.” We never saw either the attendant or the man again as we had rushed away clutching our precious and terrified children.
I don’t care for jet planes. If I can’t enter the cockpit, then I cannot feel assured the pilot is in control. I have flown across the country a few times out of necessity, but I did find every flight distressing. Jets have autopilot which has some similarity to cruise control. The actual differences are cruise control continues the vehicle at a specific speed while autopilot continues the plane at the particular rate, altitude and direction. Autopilot is deemed safe and gives the jet pilot the ability to keep watch of the mechanics and other vital tasks. Still, I’d prefer knowing a human was flying the jet.
The bumping sensations in the jets are also more pronounced than in the smaller planes because the aircraft are flying higher at much faster speeds. I’d learned during my flight lessons and the flight simulations that the air is very much like the water in a lake! If you’ve been swimming in Lake Erie, you know there are pockets of cold water. Swimming or wading you will find the warmth of the water replaced by a frigid area with a single step or stoke in another direction. As planes fly they encounter similar pockets of air of different temperatures, and this effect is the turbulence that, to passengers, can feel like the craft is bumping into things.
It was 1975, and I was 18, my boyfriend would turn 28 in a couple of months. He had a Piper Cherokee 140, and he owned a small flight school at the Detroit City Airport. The Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan International Freedom Festival fireworks display would occur that night. We planned to fly as near to the show as possible to see the presentation from the air. I became pregnant that evening with his child. You read that correctly. I knew precisely the moment as I felt the egg attach to the wall of my uterus. Even Dr. LeBlanc, my family physician, was unsure a mother could experience this, but I did. My son was born nine months later.
We had set off on a day excursion to Cedar Point. While I refused to get on the rides, we did enjoy strolling through the park, eating cotton candy and delighting over the acts of the magicians and other circus performers. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was just one of those moments in life when all felt right with the world.
We stopped at a booth that offered old style photos. You didn’t put the clothing on but rather a pioneer-style dress draped over me, and my son’s father stood behind wearing a Wrangler cowboy shirt and a Stetson western hat. The photo processed similar to the instant Kodak ones, but instead of paper, it printed on a sheet of tin. Our images on a brown and white picture did look antique and cute. I don’t know what became of the photo over the years.
One Carnie had nothing but a weigh scale as his attraction. The size was similar to the ten cent ones I’d seen in department stores. The man was offering to guess your weight for a dollar, and I knew he wouldn’t ascertain mine. The dollar I paid was pretty steep in those days as my boyfriend could buy cigarettes for 3 dollars a carton at Selfridge Air Force Base. I knew I’d win the twenty-dollar prize and eagerly handed the man a George Washington!
He underestimated my weight by 20 pounds, and the man accused me of cheating him by wearing hidden weights. I was wearing a tube top, spandex shorts and sandals. Braless and in skin-tight clothing, it was impossible for me to hide anything. The Carnie insisted I take off my flip-flops so he could weigh me again. My boyfriend had been getting angry, but I laughed and got back on the scale. My weight showed the same, and amid the applause of onlookers, the man begrudgingly handed me an Andrew Jackson. I told the man he couldn’t correctly guess because my body weight was mostly muscle.
We climbed into the plane at the Sandusky, Ohio airport and prepared for takeoff. My boyfriend radioed the tower to set our flight plan, and the flight tower radioed back we were to remain on the ground as a sudden storm was approaching fast. They would let us know when things cleared up. We were young, in love, bored and horny. Soon we found a way to make love despite the confines of the small plane, and he joked afterward, “That won’t get us into the Mile High Club!”
The radio crackled, and the man in the tower said, though his laughter, “If you folks have liftoff, the storm passed a while ago and you are free to go!” We were both embarrassed but while we didn’t get to see the fireworks over the Detroit River, but we’d made some of our own!
The skies had clouded over significantly, and our visibility was the worst I’d seen. My son’s dad instructed me to keep an extra vigilant eye on the skies. In the moment of exiting a cloud, we found ourselves in a small cloudless space, but we were not alone. In what I would guess at 20 feet in front of us I found myself looking into the eyes of another terrified pilot.
In horror, I pointed both hands down and screamed at my boyfriend, “Dive!” He would tell me later that in some uncanny way he heard my voice as a command from a Superior Officer or he would never have nosedived the plane. It was only a few seconds later when the radio crackled with the sound of a man’s voice. He said, “Your wife, or whoever the lady was, saved our lives. I saw her motion you to dive and I pulled up at that same moment. We were so close our wings wouldn’t have cleared, and we would have been a mid-air collision. Thank God!”
The (1) flight rules are that when two planes were approaching head on both pilots must bank to their right. The other pilot was correct. So close that we had eye contact; we would have sheared off each other’s wings had we followed the proper procedure.
It is true; sometimes rules are made to be broken.
During the flight back to Detroit City Airport and, my knowing a baby was on board, the fear I’d had of taking flying lessons dissipated. I knew with certainty, from that day on, I wanted to soar through the sky in control of my airship! Life is too short to always to stay grounded.
ELECTRONIC CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS
Title 14: Aeronautics and Space
PART 91 – GENERAL OPERATING AND FLIGHT RULES
Subpart B – Flight Rules
- 91.113 Right-of-way rules: Except water operations.
(e) Approaching head-on. When aircraft are approaching each other head-on, or nearly so, each pilot of each aircraft shall alter course to the right.
© 2016 Zora Zebic