You Think You Had It Tough?

Everyone who is a parent will be able to identify with this. We have all suffered through the gut wrenching, heart stopping period in our child's life known as Driver Training. Fortunately in this modern era, most actual driver instruction is handled either in the public schools or by driver training companies. However, they still have to practice... But if you think that was tough, read on.

My daughter enrolled in the aviation program at Southern Illinois University in 1992. She started her flying lessons in the Fall, and had soloed by Christmas. She came home for break and I made arrangements with a friend who had a Cessna 150, the same type of airplane my daughter was training in, to let me take a few turns around the pattern with her.

It was really kind of neat to climb in to the right seat instead of the left that I am so accustomed to. The '150 is very familiar to me as I have about 200 hours in it. But I never instructed, so the times I sat in the right seat were quite rare.

Here we go; my daughter and I both preflighted the airplane, then got in and started it up. I handled the radio and got the ATIS and clearance to taxi. They were taking off north, so we taxied to Runway 36 and after the runup, were cleared for takeoff.

The similarity between this and student driving begins to fade at this point. She pointed the airplane down the runway, pushed in the throttle and off we went. There was a little bobble in the direction, but she only had 12 or 14 hours at this point, so that was expected. She rotated properly, and we were airborne.

I told the tower that we wanted a couple of touch-and-go's, and accordingly she turned us onto crosswind, then downwind. There was some bobble in our flying, too, but again, perfectly natural for her amount of flying time.

We turned base, were cleared to land, and things were going along fine. Then we turned final.

I was really uncomfortable at this point, and the similarity between this and student driving is now utterly and irrevocably shattered. If I were flying the airplane, I would be trimming differently, managing my airspeed differently, crosschecking mixture and carb heat differently, and definitely not bobbing up and down and side to side like she seemed to be. I'm about ready to take the airplane.

Instead, I sat on my hands. Some instructor down in Carbondale, whom I had never met, and probably wasn't much older than she was had deemed her competent to fly this airplane by herself. As I reflected on my first tour around the pattern long ago, I tried to take the same attitude that we wouldn't be doing this if the capability to do so, however unpolished, hadn't been demonstrated.

That final approach was the longest one I'd ever flown, as I went over and over each of the things I'd be doing that she wasn't. But when we got over the numbers she planted it fairly nicely for a dozen hour pilot, and then pushed the throttle forward and we went around again.

The second pattern was much easier for me, as was the third, although her handling of the aircraft was still raw. But she was a pilot, and she was my daughter, and I've never been so proud of her before or since. And I sure learned a lot about the confidence others place in us and how much we have to place in turn on others. I was glad to be there.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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