The learning curve – part I

Ignotam animus dimittit in artes (lat.)

“(S)He turns her head to unknown arts” – Ovid


My color vision will fade any minute now. Hypoxia. The trail is sloping uphill and I just can’t get enough air. With legs heavy as lead I press on, trying to hide my growing despair. Keeping one’s cool is hard to do while sweating profusely. We pass a group of runners, one of them struggling to keep up, falling behind. That one’s for the lions.

The lush growl of a Lycoming IO-360 overhead announces a plane en route to join the downwind. By reflex, we both turn our heads. It’s the beautiful Super Decathlon. How lovely she looks in flight, the bright yellow starburst pattern on her wings standing out against the clear, blue morning sky. How could anyone resist her charm? Colorful taildragger, nimble and aerobatic. Epitome of the romance of flight…I get a quizzical look from my flight instructor, running quietly beside me.  As usual, I’m overdoing it, waxing poetic. But behind his imperturbable reserve and stoic professionalism, I recognize a mischievous glint. Profound knowledge and skill are always the result of passion balanced by mental discipline.

Last mile. We’ve left the trail and run, single-file, on the side of the road. Every step takes my full attention as I will my tired body to keep up with the lithe, athletic runner in front of me. A limber cat followed by a steam train. As we barrel down the access road to the airport, I lock my eyes on the flock of small airplanes on the ramp. What a lovely sight. A Citation runs up her engines and the cold morning air fills with the scent of jet fuel. We finally come to a screeching halt in front of the FBO, satisfied and oxygen-depleted. “Alright, alright,” I pant, collecting breath and swagger, “not bad, coulda gone a bit faster though.”

On the cool down round around the parking lot, we discuss plans for the two flights of the afternoon. Officially, I’m enrolled in a fast track program to obtain an instrument rating, with whole days devoted to get check ride-ready as quickly and efficiently as possible. But fast track does not fit my slow and steady pace. I savour every minute of these days, a monk in conclave, devoted inductee to the art of flying without visual reference. A new and wondrous world it is, indeed.

With a fresh pilot’s license, horizontal orientation in space, aka navigation, is still a somewhat abstract concept. Multi-tasking is not my strength, and as I focus on intercepting a course, fixated on the heading indicator and CDI needle, I repeatedly miss my call sign on the radio. Upon leaving a holding pattern, having fought with a stiff crosswind, I relax for a second, proud and pleased that I held my course. As if on cue, my brain quits computing and, with absolute conviction, I turn West when I should be heading East.

Calm and politely, my instructor points out that I need to correct my course before I get too close to a restricted area. He isn’t spending his energy trying to prevent me from making mistakes. He let’s me screw up under supervision, carefully watching over his disciple, lest her plane might wander off into a drop zone and pick up a sky diver on descent.

Despite his constant and sometimes rather brash critiquing he does not try to shape and mold his students to churn them out like sausages out of a sausage factory – trained monkeys. Instead, he recognizes individual needs, but never coddles. He will walk with his student all the way up the mountain, but let her decide which road to take.

Thus, student and teacher find a relationship most agreeable. In my case, a beautiful and strenuous day that begins in the cockpit at dawn and ends in the cockpit at dusk. A day devoted to flying where breaks are taken to run, eat, and to process. No hurry, no hustle. But lots of thorough practise. Permeating it all, the love of flying, of teaching and of continuous learning.

IR 2

One comment

  1. You will have undoubtedly come to the inevitable epiphany that instrument flight is as precise and ordered as aerobatics. There is a procedure to be mastered. The muscle memory gives way to neuron memory, but the precision in as surgical in one as in the other.

    Please, please don’t tell me you are about to become an Airbus captain.


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