Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (Episode 4): Stalls & Caribbean Dreams

In “Under the B,” I told the story of how I met the Flying Instructor who was to change my life. Mike Brandon took me “under his wing,” and—somehow—turned me from a terrified novice into the beginnings of a pilot.

The tale continues below.

 

As my landings became less than terrifying, Brandon moved me on to advanced air work. Most of the stuff didn’t bother me, but I was utterly terrified by the thought of stalls and spins. I had always thought “stalls” meant stalling the airplane’s engine to practise emergency landings. I was horrified to discover it actually meant pulling the nose higher and higher until the flow of air over the wing “stalled” and the airplane turned from a flying machine into a block of cement.

I had sat through a few stalls during my early “fright training,” but I hadn’t done one on my own … and I really didn’t want to.

“Done stalls?” Brandon asked, one day.

“Oh, hell, yeah,” I responded (with as much bravado as I could summon).

“Good. Show me one,” said Brandon, with a challenging grin.

It was unnerving how the bastard saw right through me.

“Sure,” I said, calmly pulling back the power and slowing down the plane by pulling the nose a good inch above the horizon.

The little Cessna shuddered a bit then started to mush downwards through the sky.

I banged in the power and clutched the control wheel with white knuckles as we slowly regained airspeed and returned to level flight.

Brandon let out a very dark chuckle, then said, “Nice Try, Pre-Pubic … but this is a stall.”

Brandon chopped the power, then hauled back hard on the wheel. The nose went up … and up … and up … and seemed to be on its way to heaven when the Cessna suddenly gave a violent shudder, pitched its nose down and fell into a seemingly vertical dive!

OH … MY … GOD!

The all-encompassing terror I was just barely holding at bay came screaming back with a vengeance. Brandon was a madman. He was going to kill us both. And my coffin would be this aluminium-spam-can of a Cessna.

Brandon calmly released backpressure on the wheel, built up speed, then pulled us out of the dive.

“Like that,” he said. “Okay? Now you do one.”

I looked at him with unashamed horror.

“Mike, I can’t. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

I expected another tirade … but I forgot whom I was flying with.

Brandon took in my very real fear, thought about this for a second, then nodded and went straight into another stall. But this time, he didn’t bother with the usual Instructor’s chatter—instead he calmly explained that I really didn’t have to do anything if the airplane stalled, because it was designed to recover by itself.

As the pointing nose dropped from heaven to Earth, Brandon simply let go of all the controls, then turned and looked at me while the little airplane—amazingly—righted itself.

“See, Pre-Pubic?” he said. “It wants to fly straight and level. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.”

As we’d now survived two of these “death dives,” I figured it might be okay to try a third, so I chopped the power, pulled up the nose (albeit only half as far as Brandon,) then let go of everything as the nose pitched over into its precipitous drop.

To my amazement, the little Cessna did pull out on its own.

“Mind you,” said Brandon, “It takes its sweet time recovering, so if you want to do it faster, here’s how you recover from a stall …”

By the end of that lesson, I could stall and recover with little more than profound heart palpitations. I didn’t like it, but I could do it. And in that moment, for the first time, I thought I might actually be able to win my pilot’s license … though I saw no point in spoiling the moment by telling Brandon I’d never done a spin.

Cross-country navigation was next on the curriculum. Brandon wanted to get that out of the way as it was now October and we’d soon be running out of good weather.

“Next Tuesday looks good,” he said.

“But Mike, I have to work,” I answered.

“No you don’t,” he chuckled. “You’re going to be sick on Tuesday.”

“I am?”

“Violently ill.”

“Oh,” said I.

As Tuesday approached, I was bound and determined to be ready for this long flight. I plotted my course carefully and made up separate pages for each leg of the trip. By the time I was done, I had written a small book, but I was proud of myself. For once in my life, I was actually prepared!

“What’s this?” said Brandon when he saw the sheaf of papers.

“My flight itinerary,” I answered.

Brandon flipped through the pages and whistled as he saw the contents.

“Pre-pubic,” said Brandon (obviously impressed), “You’ve done a lot of work.”

I nodded proudly … at which point, Brandon tossed the papers into a fluttering mess, which landed somewhere in the back of the baggage compartment.

As I spluttered for words, Brandon slapped a map in my hand, waved vaguely north, then said “Muskoka’s thataway. Don’t wake me till we get there.”

And with that my Instructor lay back on his seat and went to sleep.

I got lost over Barrie.

Barrie Airport was my first checkpoint and I couldn’t find it.

I looked everywhere as I flew over the Ontario town, but I couldn’t see a damn runway.

I turned to look at Brandon.

He was snoring.

“Um, Mike …” I called gently.

“ … MIKE!”

Brandon spluttered back to consciousness looking very annoyed.

“What?”

“… Can’t find Barrie Airport,” I muttered.

Brandon looked around for one nano-second then took the controls and stood the airplane on its side.

I found myself looking out the side window—straight down—at Barrie Airport.

I’d been directly overhead.

Brandon shook his head in disgust then went back to sleep.

I’ll never forget Muskoka Airport. After we landed, checked in at the flight shack and re-fuelled, Brandon bought me a pop then said, “What a great day. Let’s go for a walk.”

“Don’t we have to get the plane back?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Brandon. “I’ll tell them you got lost.”

It was one of those breathtakingly beautiful, early-fall days when the leaves were just beginning to change colour. As we walked around the edge of the field, Brandon said, “This is what flying’s all about, Pre-Pubic. Airplanes will take you places and show you things most people never get to see.”

I looked up in surprise. My beer-drinking Instructor was sounding … well … almost philosophical!

“This is what I’m after, Pre-Pubic—not the Airlines; I don’t want to be a glorified bus driver. I want a life. Maybe start a little flying service of my own … down in the Caribbean … now that would be a good time …”

Brandon stared off across the field, seeing turquoise water where I only saw trees.

We didn’t say anything else.

We just walked for a while.

And after a few minutes, I could swear I heard calypso music blowing north on the warm southern breeze …

 

Watch for Episode 5 of “Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear,” “Solo Cross Country—With a Twist” on Sunday, April 11th.

 

About the Author

Glenn Norman  is a Co-Founder and the Editor of Why Fly. Learn more.

2 Comments

  1. “Less is more” {g}

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