I meant to post this when it happened about ten days ago, but I was short on internet and even shorter on time.
I’m afraid I don’t write about flying as much as I thought I would when I started this blog a year ago. In those days, I was almost still single and relatively empowered and stupidly fearless. This past year has done a wonderful job beating me down and questioning my own authority and the agency over my life, and much of that has to do with surfacing a long-existing secret fear of flying, despite the fact that I was licensed at eighteen, and got my instrument rating and commercial fixed wing before I turned twenty-three. The day I got my commercial was the last day I ever captained an airplane. It’s insane and embarrassing but that’s the truth. I fell out of love with it and kept up with the project merely to accomplish it, whatever that was to me at the time.
I’d hoped, somewhat, that just being in Jon’s periphery, with his hundreds of hours and numerous airplanes and generous spirit (“Just take the thing out and fly it, for Crissakes!” he’d tell me) I’d somehow get over that fear, but I was wrong. I liken it to being an aspiring, inexperienced writer and then moving in with Ernest Hemingway. You falter. You shrink.
Maybe in some other version of my life, I take up independent flying again, but these days, my heart just isn’t in it, and it’s a terribly expensive hobby for a person who isn’t living and breathing aviation. Mere proximity is enough for me.
Jon bought a King Air a few months back to ease our travel back and forth to the west coast. I have to admit: it almost makes me want to get my multi-engine. Sometimes we’re up there and my mind races with the threat of possibilities — like what if something happened and the duty of landing us safely fell squarely upon me?
But the whole ordeal makes my hands sweat. I sit right-seat every time, but admittedly end up watching a movie or flipping through a magazine or doing my best to simply not pay any attention at all to the alarms and blinking radar screens and hurricane of ATC calls.
Last week, we took off and went straight into a developing storm front. Jon’s experienced and I wasn’t worried. Honestly, I was sitting there reading the OMG! section of Cosmo magazine, even as the plane bounced around in the cloudy, 0-0 turbulence. I vaguely listened to Jon going back and forth with ATC for redirects to find a hole — meaning a relatively clear section that would put us out of harm’s way — and sucked in my breath every time we went from visible to in the clouds, but it was fine.
It sounded like gunfire. It maybe lasted three seconds: BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP! Ice splattered all over the windshield. The leading edges of the wings turned white. The nose dropped, just momentarily, and then the noise died.
“WOW!” Jon shouted. “HOLY SHIT!”
My heart exploded between my teeth.
I watched him flip a million switches. Everything seemed to spin, though I could tell from the instruments that we were straight and level. He blew up the boots to throw the ice off, and the windshield heat was already on.
If you don’t fly, ice is one of the worst things that can happen to an aircraft. It changes the entire shape of the airplane. It can literally make it unflyable.
What we’d inadvertently flown into was a section of heavy precipitation that was moving four minutes faster than the radar (NEXRAD?) we had in the cockpit and used by ATC. A blind zone of ice. We were at 21,000 — so any water, any moisture, hit us and instantaneously froze.
And then, just as soon as it started, it was over.
We broke into clear blue sky, smooth as a pond. I think I even took a nap.
An hour later, we landed in Dalhart, TX for gas and ate BBQ. Back in the air, we joked around and took pictures on my computer. We talked about the close call with the ice. Jon shared that it was the fastest he’d ever picked up that much ice in his life, and we both agreed that it was an experience we’d never like to relive, and I told him how afraid I’d been, and how glad I was that he’d been PIC (pilot-in-command), and not me. That, perhaps for the first time, I was whole-heartedly glad not to be in charge.
That’s how it is, I suppose. You give up some measure of independence, a small piece or skill or talent that seems enormous and difficult to sacrifice, and you come to rest in the self-assured hands of a man with whom you can truly trust your life.