Life is too Short to be a Passenger

In “Love at First Flight”, I described how much I enjoyed my first flight in a small airplane. I didn’t, however, describe my first landing in small airplane.

It was a bit traumatic. I had really enjoyed the flight. Except for the part right after we took off, when I looked down into someone’s backyard and felt dizzy… And the part where I felt sick as we were circling over the cottage… But I loved everything else!

Until the landing…


The runway that was in use at Buttonville that day was the one that takes you right over a road just before the runway. Right after Jeff turned towards the runway, when we were still quite high above the ground (about 700 feet, as I later learned), I suddenly saw the propeller! I hadn’t seen it for the entire flight! Sure, every time I looked out the front of the airplane, the propeller was there, spinning frantically, keeping us up in the air (well, I guess the wings had something to do with that, too), but I never saw it. It was moving too fast to see it. But as we descended towards that road and that runway, I could now see the propeller. “This is not good”, I thought, “The engine has stopped”.

I glanced sideways at Jeff. He looked calm…no surprise, he is a very calm guy. Plus, as he has explained,”Pilots train for every eventuality and must remain calm in an emergency”. So, to me, his calmness was proof that we indeed had an emergency situation and he was calmly dealing with it. Well, the last thing he needed was a hysterical wife distracting him, so I gripped the bottom of my seat as tightly as I could, with both hands, and tried to remember what he had told me about ‘off-airport’ landings. I drew a blank. Well, at least we were very close to an airport. In fact, as we flew over the road, it appeared that we might actually make it to the runway! But, without an engine, perhaps it would be a crash landing? I braced myself, but I did not close my eyes.

Then, as we smoothly touched down, I heard the tower controller instruct Jeff to exit at the taxiway and switch to the ground frequency, which he acknowledged.

I burst into tears at exactly the same moment that Jeff turned to me (ostensibly to receive my praise on a great landing). “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I thought it was a pretty smooth landing”.

“The engine stopped.” I blubbered. “I thought we were going to crash!” He was incredulous! “Why did you think the engine stopped?” he asked. “Because I could see the propeller” I sobbed. “Well, yes, the propeller is right in front of you, so it makes sense that you would see it.” was his logical response. “And the engine has not stopped; in fact, we are using it right now to taxi.”

It took us a few minutes to sort it out. I now understand that when the airplane is at full power or cruise power, the propeller is spinning so fast that it’s not really visible. Depending on the light, you can partially make out the blur, but mostly, you look through it and don’t notice it. When the throttle is pulled back to idle, however, the propeller slows to the point that you can make out the individual blades. During a normal flight, the only time the engine would be at idle is during landing, and usually, just before arriving at the runway. On this particular landing, however, Jeff had found himself a bit high after turning towards the runway, so he had pulled the throttle to idle to expedite his descent. At that point, I had unexpectedly seen the propeller.

My lack of knowledge had resulted in terror. I realized that there was so much that I did not understand about flying and that lack of understanding would likely result in additional situations that would frighten me.

I did not dwell on that, though. On the drive home, I chattered excitedly about the flight. The thrill, the feeling of freedom, the aerial views! “Can we go for another flight tomorrow?” I asked. Jeff was delighted! He had been afraid that I would not enjoy it (a fear that was reinforced when I had burst into tears after the landing).

So the next day, Sunday, we went for another flight. This time, we flew south to Lake Ontario, once around the CN Tower and then east along the lakeshore. We flew over our house and I took photos of our neighbourhood from the air. We flew to the Oshawa Airport and Jeff talked to the Oshawa Tower controller for permission to fly through the zone. I found the radio communication particularly interesting and asked lots of questions about it. It was obviously very professional and structured and I was very impressed with my husband!

I took the controls for a bit longer on this flight. Jeff showed me how to pitch and bank and I tried it. I was surprised by how easy it was to move the airplane with so little movement of the control yoke – how responsive the airplane was to my touch.

After an uneventful landing at Buttonville, we drove home. Driving home this time, I was quieter. An idea was forming in my mind. I had loved everything about the second flight, but most of all the part where Jeff had let me fly the airplane myself. It was an exhilarating feeling knowing that the airplane was responding to my inputs. How many people get to actually fly an airplane?

I thought back to the first flight, where I had been frightened because I hadn’t understood what was happening. That had been uncomfortable. I knew that one way to avoid that was to learn everything I could about flying.

After dinner that evening Jeff filled in his logbook, as I put some finishing touches on a report that was due at work the next day. I asked him about his logbook and he showed me all the entries, which had begun almost exactly 20 years earlier. The first eight pages were from 1985 and 1986, then nothing until the end of 2003, when he got back into flying!

He showed me the first few entries for his flights in our airplane. The two that included me were the third and fourth flights that he had made in GMWI. I noticed that many of his entries had comments written beside them – some written by him and some by his passengers. He asked me if I would like to write a comment beside the entry for Sunday’s flight.

I wrote, in pen, “Since we own a plane, I might as well learn how to fly it.”

In response to his shocked expression, I shrugged and said “Life is too short to be a passenger.”

next story…



They say that the only reason for having a propeller is to keep the pilot cool. Why? Because if you stop the propeller, you can see the pilot sweat.


Haha – yes, it’s a big fan. And I was doing more than sweating that day when I thought that it had stopped!

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