Why I Fly: The Joys of Becoming a Pilot
by Crista Worthy
Leonardo da Vinci said, “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” Every pilot can relate to that. A remarkable statement, considering its author is not known to have actually flown himself. It’s the rare pilot who doesn’t look up every time they hear an aircraft overhead. I know I do.
I’ve been looking up at airplanes as long as I can remember. My parents immigrated to America from Denmark in the early 1950s. They arrived via ocean liner, not airplane. They had never even seen a television until their first day in New York, when they watched men in funny-looking pajamas trying to hit a small, white ball with a stick. I was born in Los Angeles, and every weekend my parents either took me to the beach or to LAX. Back then, anyone could stand right next to the fence, less than a hundred yards east of the approach end of the runway. My dad would hold me up so I could be just that much closer to the airplanes. As a giant Boeing 707 or DC-8 roared directly overhead, moments before it touched down, I clasped my hands over my ears and squealed in delight as the roar of the engines filled my body. Soon, I learned the names of all the different airline types.
Learning to Fly
Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that I could become a pilot myself. Maybe that’s the way girls were raised back then. But, in 1994, I met the man who later became my husband. Fred was a pilot, but his ex was afraid of flying, so he had allowed his currency to lapse. I wasn’t afraid. He got current and we began renting Cessna 172s, making trips to places like San Francisco and Las Vegas. I wanted to know everything about everything: the radios, how to navigate, etc.
It wasn’t long at all before Fred would take off and, as soon as we were established in a cruise climb, hand the controls to me. I would do all the flying (unless we hit bad turbulence), navigation and radios until we entered the traffic pattern; then he would take over again. Later, we purchased a Cessna 210. I flew in the right seat this way for nine years, to every corner of the continental U.S., accumulating over 1,000 un-loggable hours. One night, I had a vivid dream that I was going to fly alone. I got into the left seat and inserted the key. But then I was stuck — I didn’t know how to start the engine! I woke up, incredibly frustrated. That was the moment I decided to become a pilot (officially) myself. I only really needed to know how to taxi, take off, and land, so I got my certificate in the minimum time of 40 hours. After my complex and high-performance sign-offs, I could fly the 210 solo.
What I Love Most About Flying
The first thing I fell in love with about flying came in through my ears: listening to and talking on the radio frequency. When my husband gave me my first headset, it became a favorite possession because of what it represented. Even when I used to wax our airplane, and later when I had an aircraft detailing business, I would set a hand-held radio in the hangar so I could listen to the tower and nearby pilots. It’s just a different world up there on the frequency. I love listening to ATC and forming a mental picture of everything that’s going on around me in the air.
The second thing I fell in love with about flying was the ability to see and understand the geography and geology of the West. You could probably take me up in an airplane blindfolded anywhere west of the Rockies, and when the blindfold comes off, I could look around and tell you where we are with decent precision. My favorite area of the world to fly over is the Colorado plateau; all the sandstone areas surrounding the Colorado River — 300 million years of the Earth’s history laid bare, if you know how to read it.
The third thing I fell in love with about flying happened when we first started flying into Idaho’s backcountry airstrips. You can take off from a city and land next to a wild river deep inside a canyon, camp and not see a single other human except your companion. This is my heaven on earth. You need the third edition of “Fly Idaho!” to choose which airstrips to visit.
The last thing I love about flying, control in maneuvering, came as I gained confidence flying the 210 alone. I would skim over the ocean, offshore, just a few feet above the water at high speed. What a rush! That is, until my husband pointed out that if I hit a pelican, I would almost certainly die. So, I stopped that. At SMO, when traffic allows, I love coming into the pattern at top speed. As I deploy the flaps and then the gear, it feels like speed brakes and your weight strains momentarily at the seat belt and harness. I ask for a short approach, throw in more flaps, slip and the heavy plane drops like a boxcar, the VSI pegged. Touch down gently and pull off before the first taxiway. Now that is fun!