I stumbled into the vessel and took note of my surroundings. It was overwhelming: the buttons, knobs, screens, graphs, sprockets and thinga-ma-bobbers were all jumbled together on one dashboard. I didn't know what any of it was, and I wasn't really that interested in finding out. I just wanted wanted to get this puppy in the air.
We flipped a couple switches, turned a couple of dials, and I eagerly awaited the next movement.
“That's not good,” the captain muttered. I glared at him from the other side of the tiny cockpit. We hadn't even left the ground yet.
“Dead battery. We'll just wait for a minute.”
My faith in my co-pilot dissolved quickly.
Off to a great start, I thought. And if this plane wasn't going to switch on, we were going to have to jump it (did you know you could jump-start a plane?) or find another airplane in their fleet that felt like turning over.
Five minutes and a few fumbles later and the engine finally sputtered into to a brisk growl. We wrapped headsets around our ears and John muttered a few nonsensical sentences into the microphone. Something about deltas and foxtrots.
“Good to go.”
He was a flight sim geek whom I clearly surpassed in age. He couldn't have been more than 22 and he was going to be my captain and co-pilot, flying a Cessna 172 over the mountains of North Carolina.
“Do you scare easily?” he asked.
Giving it some juice, the plane eased forward and I maneuvered the vehicle with my feet. Instead of using the steering wheel, two pedals control the left to right movement while the plane is on the ground. These pedals also adjust side-to-side movements while in the air.
Failing horribly at keeping the airplane moving in a forward fashion, and almost steering us off the runway (seriously), John decided it would be a better idea if he took the reigns for our departure. It was the first smart thing he'd said so far.
Punching the gas and, with seemingly no effort whatsoever, we raced down the runway and lifted off into the air.
“Okay,” he said. “It’s all yours. Let’s get this sucker up to 5,000.”
I pulled back on the wheel and the nose scaled the horizon. We climbed through the clouds until we were gliding right above them, just barely kissing the top layer with our landing gear.
I handed him my camera to take a few photos for proof. For someone who knows how to fly a plane, this boy sure struggled with a zoom lens.
Wanting to get higher (of course), I pulled back once again and we rocketed further into the troposphere. I was told to keep it at 8,000.
Wiping a few beads of sweat from my brow, I realized it had gotten increasingly hot inside the extremely cramped cockpit. Turning to open the window, what I found was not a closed window, but an open door.
I frantically shifted my weight to the middle of the vessel, having just realized that I was literally inches from falling out of an airplane.
The last time this happened I had a parachute on my back. This time, I had a flimsy seatbelt and a pilot with 150 hours of training.
When I brought this slight oversight to John’s attention, he thankfully mimicked my sentiment.
“Oh shit!” he reiterated, as his lips pursed together with the realization of his own negligence. “Just pull that lever, lean out, and slam it shut. Like a car door.”
THIS IS NOT A CAR DOOR, JOHN! And we're 8,000 feet in the air.
Shifting my weight back, I leaned out of the plane, looked down, then grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut.
With everything back on track, we headed towards the city. We flew over the mountains and downtown Asheville, pointing out landmarks such as the Biltmore Estate, the largest house in America, and the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world.
The trees were lush at this time of year, and I felt relieved to experience blue skies and green mountains after returning to a cold, hard winter from the tropics of Southeast Asia.
Feeling only slightly more secure in my seat now, I leaned hard to the right and took the wheel with me. We dipped and angled a cool 30 degrees and, with the nose of our plane aimed directly at the runway, we began our descent to the stable ground.
I looked at John and indicated that he’d better take over. I wasn't going to try to put a plane on the ground because I felt much more sure that I would end up putting a plane through the ground.
He took the helm and calmly set us back down on earth. We pulled into our parking space, tied our winged box down to the pavement, and just like that, it was over, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened that day. I casually retreated to the hardware store and duplicated a couple of keys.
Just a quick ol’ up and down, as they say.
Do they say that?
Name: WNC Aviation
Notes: Be the captain of your own airplane! WNC Aviation runs discovery flights like this, often with Groupon deals for half price. Use their website to make bookings, or reach them at (828) 687-7540. Don't ask for John.
This article was written in conjunction with Momondo as a part of the Momondo Experiences Series. They challenged me to do something crazy, and I chose to fly a plane (without falling out). All words and opinions expressed are strictly honest and my own.