Taking it to the Skies: The Next Steps
When my teenage son decided to learn how to fly, I decided to join him. We have had a lot of fun together, including one night flight, each in our own plane with an instructor, where we learned how to turn on runway lights from the sky. Serious mother-son bonding.
I got a private pilot's license in June. I am now learning to fly by instruments. Very difficult. There are many many rules, and many many acronyms. STARS, DA/DH, LNAV/VNAV, PIREPS, DME, IAP to name only a tiny fraction. Also innumerable symbols, on charts and maps--for routes, for weather, for lighting systems. For everything. And the whole idea is to trust your instruments, rejecting any contrary suggestion your body may give you. Where before I needed to learn to look outside the cockpit window, now I have to learn to fly looking only at the control panel. As a lawyer I was a reasonably good at multi-tasking, but that was nothing compared to trying to figure out where I am, where I am going, and how to stay in the air, crosschecking and analyzing dials and diagrams in real time--a little like the computers in Hidden Figures, though I have electronics to help. Thank goodness.
In the process, I have been introduced to a fascinating, invisible world. The engineers of flight have designed a complex system of highways in the sky--Victor airways. Every plane above a certain altitude, or otherwise flying on instruments, is on one of these highways, unless it is following specific air traffic control directives. These invisible highways are reached by precisely designed on and off ramps between the runway environment and the sky. These too are remarkable. Each one, for each airport qualified for instrument flight, is designed to make sure the pilot can clear obstacles if she follows a precise path. A lot of work went into this, and it never ends, as terrain can change. The precision of the system keeps everyone safe.
Written test soon. Then, I will have to demonstrate that I can do it in the air. Will I make it? Crossed fingers. Is it fun? Sometimes! One thing is for sure. Learning about the unseen dimension in the sky--and watching my son best me at all levels--has been worth every minute.