JUN. 7 | How 'bout try not to die?

  • Posted on: 9 June 2011
  • By: Michelle

For some reason, every time I go to a little airport and ask someone there to let me a fly a plane, they say yes. I used to think it was because of my stunning good looks and charming sense of humour, or at the very least because I appear to be mildly competent. But now I am pretty sure it is because of the exorbitant amount of money that they request, and which I obligingly pay.


So, I went flying last week, for the first time in several years. Odd as it sounds, the saying "It's just like riding a bike" almost applies here. Except that this bike has wings. And an engine. And a spinning blade of life/death about four feet in front of your face.


So ... uhhh ... if E.T. was juggling knives while sitting in the basket on Elliot's bike, I guess that flying a plane would be like riding a bike ...

Wait. What the hell was I talking about?

Oh right. This week, I went to the Squamish Airport and rented a Cessna 172, which is essentially a large aluminum can with wings and a dash full of blinking lights and knobs and suspicious red buttons that make you feel really important. Then I also rented a guy whose job is to make sure I don't kill myself. Well, technically, his job is to make sure I don't kill him. By sheer physical proximity, that means if he doesn't die, conveniently, neither do I.

I am totally not joking.

As your flight instructor will tell you the first time you go out, it's not the flying that's a problem. It's the landing.

So. Yeah. Flying ... like riding a bike. Stalls, slow flight, steep turns ... my airwork could even be considered competent. The landing part? More like riding a pedal-less unicycle.

Let me tell you about the Squamish Airport, and it's lovely approach to landing. (For the record, any airport with a windsock doing THIS, is not likely to be talked about using words like 'lovely' or 'relaxing' or 'totally didn't feel like I was going to die.')


If I were talking to another pilot, I'd describe the approach at Squamish as follows:

Uncontrolled airport, 2400 foot runway, trees on both sides, in a valley with 9000 foot peaks. Lefthand circuits. For takeoffs to the south, immediate 50 degree right turn for noise abatement. Winter eagle habitat, watch for birds of prey. Fly toward mountains, then turn modified upwind/crosswind following the river, level off circuit altitude and turn downwind inside of peaks. Follow power lines downwind, turn base inside peaks, runway not visible due to forest. Turn shortened final, due to mountainous terrain. Cross river, industrial complex, two sets of power lines - watch for pressure differences. Trees on short final. Keep above 70 knots for wind shear penetration and approximate 8-10 degree approach angle. Expect wind shear, and variable crosswinds on final and touchdown. Watch for wildlife on runway. Active helicopter traffic.

Sounds all smart and technical and like my education was actually worth something, eh?

What I actually said was ...

Really short runway, at an airport with no air traffic controllers, in a valley with huge mountains on both sides. When you take-off to the south, you have to turn immediately to the right and not fly over houses, so that the rich people in the Republic of Brackendale don't complain about noise. Before you turn, make sure to look for eagles, because they will leave a very big hole in your plane, and a lot of blood on your windscreen. Then fly directly towards the mountain, and turn in time to not hit it. Climb to 1000 feet, and stay there, but don't hit any of the mountains that are also 1000 feet high. When you want to land, aim your nose straight down to the ground and fly really fast, in case the winds change, otherwise you will drop like a rock. Don't hit the power lines, or the trees, or the deer on the runway, or the helicopters. Try to keep your airplane right side up, and try not to scream.

So yeah. That guy that I hired to make sure that I didn't die? SO worth the money.

Then again ... so is the view ...