At the age of 17, I thought I had done almost everything there was to do. Against the wishes of my father (and business partner), I decided to take flying lessons at our local airport, Woodring Field near Enid, Okla.
On my first ride, the pilot/instructor said that he smelled smoke, and we had to land to check it out. My first thought: "Oh, great. It's my very first flight and I'm going to die. Dad's really going to be mad." Fortunately, the problem turned out to be just an oily rag on the exhaust. The instructor removed the rag, and we soon were back into the air - with great apprehension on my part.
I was learning to fly in an Aronica Cub (called a tail dragger); this meant the tail only had a skid for a wheel. This skid and the rudder were what guided the plane while taxiing on the ground. While taxiing, you had to look out both sides of the plane and zigzag to see what's in front of you. Once the plane gained some speed, the tail would come up and you could see in front of you. When the plane was going fast enough, you pulled back on the stick (the stick is the steering wheel on this plane) to go up. I had the urge to pull all the way back on the stick to get into the air as soon as possible. Wrong move. You only pull the stick back far enough to maintain about 85 mph - any less and the plane could go into a stall and fall backward. Once you gained the desired altitude, you would level the plane to maintain the horizon at a certain point from where you were sitting. Then you would reduce the engine's rpms to a certain level, and the Aronica Cub's flying speed would be 110 mph.
I was flying the plane, with the instructor (riding behind me) having his hands and feet off the controls. At that point I was in full control of the plane - a great feeling, right? Wrong.
The instructor cut the throttle and advised me the engine had quit. He asked, "What's the first thing you should do?" My first thought was to jump, but that's the wrong decision - no parachute. The instructor advised me to first put the plane into a downward glide and maintain a steady speed of 120 mph. The next thing to do is look for a place to land. I chose a plowed field directly below. The instructor said, "OK, land on it."
To this point, I had never even landed at an airport. Needless to say, keeping the plane in a glide, I missed my target by more than 10 miles. The instructor said, "Take your time, keep the plane in a glide and pick a level hard spot about 10 miles ahead." I chose a pasture, and the instructor told me to land on it. Gulp. As I was coming down, I could see the cows scattering, the jack rabbits running and the buffalo wallows (big pot holes in the pasture). Just before the wheels touched down (and would probably break off), the instructor hit the throttle and said, "OK, take it up again." At the end of this lesson, I wasn't entirely sure I really wanted to learn to fly.
However, it was just a few days later, and I was ready to learn some more. One lesson had the instructor putting the plane into an almost vertical climb so that I could experience a stall (that's when the plane no longer goes forward and upward but starts vibrating all over, falling down and backwards and downward). At this point, he turned the plane to the right and gave it full power. We fell to the right and eventually forward to recover - not a good feeling, but an excellent lesson.
I had eight hours of instruction and was to solo after two more hours of practicing take-offs and landings with the instructor. Then I was to solo for total of 40 hours before I could test for my private pilot's license.
In the meantime I had found a more interesting project - Bess. Sometime later, Bess and I married and lived in Arkansas.
From that time to now, I found out that I have not done everything I've want to do in life. Maybe I'll learn to fly when I grow up, get older and have nothing better to do. In the meantime, I'll just keep aggravating Bess, running my mouth and writing "Porky's Hole Thoughts" for National Driller.