Airplanes and Me

When I was 16 I had a friend named Scott who had earned his pilot’s license. Scott would often take me flying with him. We would drive down to what was then called Airport number 2, now South Valley Regional U42. I remember there was something magical about knowing the code to the gate and being able to walk onto the taxiways and tarmack. At U42 their were quite a few planes that were just tied down off the runway and not under a hangar. We would walk around and look in the Windows of all the planes. We started out flying rental Cessna 172 with six pack instruments. Scott would fly me over to Utah county, over BYU, and construction job sites his dad or brothers were working at. When I got recruited to play football at Southern Utah University Scott flew me down to Cedar to meet with the coaches. He also flew down once after my mission and we took dates flying over Zions National Park. Scott allowed me to take the controls on most of our flights and after chasing the needle to catch the altitude I finally mastered straight and level flight. Flying was a love hate relationship for me. I loved the feeling and coolness of flying, but I hated the fact that I got air sick and threw up on almost every flight.

I remember one flight coming back from Cedar City. We had specifically gone to a maverick before coming home to grab some bags in case I needed to throw up. On the way home Scott and I followed I-15 as it got later and darker. At one point outside of Utah County the air was getting choppy and I was getting sick. I had found that if I flew the airplane my brain was more okay with the bumps. But if you have ever been sick you will know that outside noises and inputs can really throw you for a loop if you are concentrating on not throwing up. Scott noticed I was getting sick and started talking into the headset. I motioned for him to quiet down and he continued to get louder. I can see where he would get some entertainment out of his friend getting sick when he felt fine. Long story short, it was a good thing we grabbed that Maverick bag.

After I got married, while still living in Cedar I convinced Pigeon, my wife’s nick name, to let me take some lessons in Cedar. I think I took two lessons. On one lesson we flew down to Beaver and I remembered thinking I would never be able to fly well because it was so hard to find where the runways were once you were airborne. On the next flight Pigeon came with us. We were practicing touch and gos, where you take off, stay in the traffic pattern and come right back around to land. It was a hot day in Cedar and I remember my brain being cloudy from all the inputs. Hot air in the cabin, brain racing to stay ahead of the plane and listen to the instructor. Eventually the inputs overwhelmed me and I started throwing up, well sort of.

A couple of years earlier I had a surgery to repair the acid reflux I had experienced since youth. Every 18 to 24 months I would choke on food because the acid reflux had caused so much scar tissue in my throat it was slowly closing off my esophagus. I had at least 5 surgeries where I would choke on rice, chicken, or another meat and they would have to go down, remove the meat and stretch my throat back out. The new surgery, called a Nissen Fundoplication makes it so no acid comes up in your throat. The by product is that I can no longer throw up. Correction, I can go through the motions of throwing up but nothing comes up.

So I was trying to land the plane and kept going through the motions of gagging with Pidge in the back seat chuckling and the instructor not knowing what to think. It was after this flight that I came to my senses and realized that flying was not in a college students budget and I quit the lessons.

Fast forward nearly 9 years and Elder Uchtdorf, an apostle of the LDS Church, was giving a talk in conference about achieving your dreams. He probably was talking religiously but it registered with me as a need to earn my pilot’s license. I immediately began researching flight schools and settled on Cornerstone Aviation which operated out of Salt Lake International Airport. I figured if I am going to learn I might as well learn at the busy airports. I went to Cornerstone on a blustery day and told Susan, the owner, that I wanted to go up into the bumpy weather and if I did not get sick I would know I could take lessons. She suggested that was a horrible idea and that I should get used to flying on nice days so my body would acclimatize. I followed her suggestion and she was correct. My first flight on a calm day left me feeling ill and white. I think it is because I am a perfectionist and want to know everything that is going on. When taking off and landing, listening to air traffic control, trying to listen to all the tips that the instructor is giving and attempting to process it all in a noisy cockpit the brain gets overwhelmed with all the inputs. I didn’t throw up, but I was happy to be back down. That first lesson at Cornerstone was May 5, 2011. Lessons were always challenging and fun and I was suprised at the amount of things that were required to learn in order to get a license. From how an engine works to weather that pilot training is very in depth.

Most of my flights were from Salt Lake international airport to Tooele airport via the “Barn transition”.They call it the barn transition because you fly out to antelope island in the great Salt Lake and once you fly over the barn (a literal old barn on the island) they give you new coordinates.

One neat experience, where I realized the coolness of what I was doing, was on my long cross country solo from Salt Lake to St. George. One of the runways in Salt Lake was closed so they were channeling all traffic to my runway. I had a couple huge airplanes in front of me and more huge ones to the left of me. I was a small fish in a big pond. This experience mad me flash back to a time when I distinctly remember being on a commercial flight flying into Salt Lake and looking out the window to see the small general aviation planes. I thought to myself those guys are crazy to be flying around here with all these big airplanes. It was one of those moments where you suddenly found yourself living out something you once thought was impressive and crazy and never thought would be possible. I was now confident to fly with these big airplanes. It was a cool feeling.

 

Here is the picture of three airplanes in front of me.

This is the view out my left window. We were all lined up to take off out of the same runway.

 

I passed my check ride, with Clair Shaffer, and became an official private pilot on June 28, 2012. I would have earned my license sooner but the airplane I was renting went into the shop for an extended period around Halloween of 2011 and life got super busy with work and the holidays so I did not fly from Oct 25 2011 to June 01, 2012. In the long run I am happy there was a break it allowed me to brush up and get some more lessons in with a new instructor that taught me some additional new skills.

As a side note, Sharon, the owner of the flight school, was right! As I learned all the skills and became comfortable with the airplane, the radios, and the equipment flying has become a pure joy. The air sickness that I once had on almost every flight is no longer an issue at all. My favorite aspect of flying is there is always more to learn. My favorite thing to do is take people who love flying or who have never been flying for rides. Knowing what it is like to get sick, I make sure they have a nice smooth ride and know what is happening. It is an amazing hobby!

 

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