‘I hardly had a clue what I was doing’
First flight lesson leaves reporter hungry for more
David Mroczek takes reporter David Rainville for his first flight in a small plane.
Measuring 24 feet from tip to tail, with a wingspan of 33 feet, the Cessna 152 defines the term "small plane." David Mroczek has owned this model twice, buying it back from the former student to whom he had sold it.
There's not much room in the cozy cockpit of David Mroczek's Cessna 152. The small trainer plane fits two, with room for 120 lbs. of luggage behind the fold-down seats.
I steered the little two-seat Cessna onto the runway, pushed the throttle to full-on and hoped for the best.
The engine roared, and the airplane picked up speed as it made its way toward the end of the runway 1-19 at the Orange Municipal Airport.
I hardly had a clue what I was doing.
Thankfully, the airplane did most of the work, with some help from David Mroczek and his 60 years of experience as a pilot. When it was time to come down, I was even more thankful that Mroczek, seated at a second set of yoke and pedals, was there to land it for me.
Now, I’ve got one hour of flight time, compared to Mroczek’s 13,000. If I grabbed a log book and recorded the lesson, I’d only need 39 more to get my private pilot’s license.
By then, I might be able to taxi down the runway without weaving back and forth across the yellow centerline like a drunkard.
Taxiing proved the hardest part of my lesson — though I didn’t get to try landing. Steering was done with the two pedals at my feet. I pressed the balls of my feet against the bottom of the pedals to angle the rudder and steer, and used my toes at their tops to apply brakes for tighter turns.
At low speed, it was hard to turn — I had to rely on the air flowing across the rudder to steer. At a crawl, the drag from the air pressure wasn’t enough to push the plane’s rear to one side or the other.
The only flying I’d done before consisted of two commercial round-trips to Florida and one to Baltimore, if you can call that flying. Being a passenger aboard an airliner is like being on a bus that happens to be in the air.
Looking through the windshield of an airplane as small as the Cessna, there’s no question; you are soaring through the sky.
The last time I’d flown, I was more worried about whether my MP3 player would run out of batteries before the babbling salesman seated in front of me ran out of steam.
This time, my worries were legion — though unfounded.
Would I accidentally steer us into a tailspin? Would the little craft be torn apart by turbulence? Would the plane’s single engine sputter out and send us plummeting to the ground?
It took about 5 or 10 minutes for me to forget all of that. In the meantime, I was all butterflies. The plane rose on updrafts of warm air, then dropped slightly. I felt like I was riding a roller coaster without a track, as my gut rose toward my lungs in moments of weightlessness. For those first few banked turns, I thought the plane may roll too far to one side or the other, sending us screaming toward the ground.
Luckily, I had an expert pilot to talk me through it all and assure me that we were safe in the sky.
Before long, I felt like I had the hang of it. I learned what reaction to expect when I turned to yoke from side to side or pulled it back to climb toward the clouds.
Once I was on the ground, I couldn’t wait to go back up.
After we landed, Mroczek and I headed across the street to chat over lunch. We each had a BLT — his on rye, mine on wheat — and I managed to put my ear-to-ear grin on pause long enough to take a few bites and wash them down with coffee.
Back home, I sat out on the lawn and enjoyed the sun. A crow swooped over the yard and my brown eyes were green with envy as I watched it. A few quick flaps of his black wings and he was airborne while I remained grounded for the foreseeable future.
Though I wasn’t born with the gift of flight, I can still learn, even if it takes a while.
Instructional hours are cumulative, so I could take my time. It worked for Leonard Bedaw, a former student of Mroczek’s and current manager of the Orange airport. Once he’d caught the flying bug, he set a change jar on his night stand and began to collect his coins. Whenever he had enough to rent a plane and an instructor for an hour, he’d head to the airport and take another lesson. It took him 23 years, but he earned his license.
If you’d like to learn to fly, you can, too.
Fly Pioneer Valley teaches aviation out of the Turners Falls and Orange municipal airports, with a variety of small planes. Their website, www.flypioneervalley.com, has a wealth of information on becoming a pilot. Lessons are also available through the Northampton Airport.
— DAVID RAINVILLE