Words of Encouragement for the Reluctant Flyer
...Originally posted in the trip section but I thought it belonged in the "Best of the Best" ....gz
The following piece is one that my wife, Debra, wrote a while ago. It was originally slotted to be published in Sport Aviation but with the magazine changes, it was put on hold. While it's not a travel story per se, it relates Deb's travel experiences in 339A up till now.
With Oshkosh less than a week away, we thought it might be an appropriate time to post it. It's written from the point of view of a passenger who had no idea what she was getting herself into with this flying business. The intent being that we might help other would-be spouses/significant others to take the next step.
Words of Encouragement for the Reluctant Flyer
The Fear Factor: It's All Relative
by Debra Mills (with Scott's tips for pilots)
Wife of RVator Scott Mills
There are women who share the love of aviation with the men in their lives. There are women whose passion for flight prompts them to become pilots. There are even women who build their own airplanes. Then there are the rest of us—women who never imagined they would one day be traveling in a single-engine aircraft that was built in their garage; women who are a wee bit apprehensive about climbing in and taking off into the blue.
When my husband began seriously entertaining the idea of building an airplane, I asked the usual questions: Are you kidding?! How safe is it? How much will it cost? How long will it take? Is there really enough room in our garage to build an airplane?
I had my doubts as to whether or not the project would come to completion, but as a committed friend of my husband’s excitement, I became an enthusiastic supporter. I was a willing participant in many a discussion about whether “this or that” might be the best course of action. As Scott geared up to begin the project, we took a family camping vacation that involved driving 36 hours and 2,400 miles round-trip to attend a builders’ seminar and shop the seemingly endless hangars and tents of aviation “stuff” at AirVenture.
Once Scott had made the decision as to which aircraft he was going to build, Mr. Brown began delivering those large wooden crates. As we set about the task of unpacking and inventorying parts, I remember thinking that the project was going to take f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I just could not envision the countless bits and bobs being transformed into an airworthy flying machine for two.
Once construction commenced, I served more than a few hours as devoted building assistant—dimpling, inserting clecos, riveting, or simply providing companionship and snacks. But the idea of actually traveling anywhere in the finished product seemed more like a pipe dream than a probability.
Knowing my husband as I do, I should not have been surprised by his self-driven motivation; but I was. During the four years that it took to finish the RV9A, I became a builder’s widow. When not traveling for business, which he does quite frequently, Scott spent every spare moment in the garage. On the rare (wink, wink) occasion that I became snarky about the time, attention, and money that was being lavished on “the aluminum mistress,” he bucked me up with talk of all the fun we’d have traveling together once the plane was airborne. But, as I was quick to remind him, flying was his thing—not mine.
Prior to building, my involvement in Scott’s flying activities was minimal. Between the time he earned his wings in July of 1997 and my first stint in the passenger seat of the RV in 2006, I had flown with him on just three occasions. While I’m sure he would have welcomed more participation on my part, my lack of interest wasn’t of major significance.
When talk of building began, however, it became clear that Scott’s mission had changed: He intended to put some serious miles on the RV, and yours truly was to be his flying buddy! It was easy enough to muster enthusiasm at the prospect of flitting about in a home-built airplane while it lay in pieces in the garage, but the time would eventually come when I’d have to follow through. Fast forward four years …
Once friend and test pilot Dave Petri had put N339A through her paces, and Scott had gotten up-to-snuff with his aviating skills (following a seven-year hiatus and a significant change in topography), the long-awaited day finally arrived when I buckled into the passenger seat of the airplane I had helped to build.
Enjoying Life at Altitude in 2010
At some point during the building phase, Scott began telling me about a group of folks who had traveled to the islands in their RVs. This was all quite interesting, of course, but not something I had a strong desire to do. As rumors of a return trip to the Turks & Caicos began surfacing, Scott pulled out all the stops in getting me onboard with the idea.
Although I had about 30 passenger hours under my belt by the time we journeyed to the British West Indies, I was still a relative newbie. The list of things I had yet to experience at this point included a leg longer than 1.25 hours in duration, more than 2.5 hours of total flight time on any given day, flying with a group, flying amongst the clouds, flying across the water, flying in the rain, and flying through the dreaded wake turbulence. The majority of my flight time had been of the $100-hamburger variety.
It’s important to note that while 30 hours were relatively few before embarking on a 5,100-mile voyage, it was a solid foundation upon which to build. To my pilot’s credit, he’d had the good sense to take things slow and steady up to that point. Had he not been insightful enough from the get-go to appreciate the importance of his flying buddy’s state of mind, my first ride in the RV might well have been my last. Scott’s calm, cool, and collected behavior was instrumental in easing my anxieties on the Turks trip—the last thing a nervous passenger needs is a nervous pilot! While Scott may well have been anxious on the inside, he never let me see it.
More to follow ...
Since her maiden flight on 09/11/2005, the plane that was constructed in our garage has flown 731 hours, traversed 103,600 miles, and landed at 157 airports in 44 states. Alongside Scott in the cockpit much of the time, the boundaries of this here flying buddy’s level of comfort have been stretched and stretched some more.
Case in point, I had heard the more seasoned pilot wives talk of in-flight reading and sleeping during our trip to the Turks. At the time, I simply could not fathom being enough at ease to read, let alone fall asleep. Although I still prefer to be awake and attentive while traveling hither and yon, rumor has it I have been known to nod off.
During our many hours together in the world aloft, Scott and I have had interesting remember-when conversations about my earliest flights in the RV and how far I’ve come in terms of being at ease in a variety of situations.
To my initial way of thinking, a day with clouds in the sky just wasn’t a good day to be in the air. We’ve since flown in the midst of billowing cumulus clouds, above broken layers, just under ceilings, and everything in between within the boundaries of safe VFR flight. I cut my cloud-flying teeth during our Turks & Caicos Adventure. That little speck you see in the photo below is actually another RV. Did being dwarfed by such huge plumes of white make me nervous? You bet it did! But I learned and grew as a result of that experience, and I now rank these flights among some of our most scenic.
While I was at ease enough in calm air, even the slightest turbulence caused me to involuntarily suck in my breath and grab hold of something for fear of falling from the sky. We have since encountered bumps where our heads hit the canopy a time or two and the occasional rough patch has all but put the airplane on its side. Though I certainly don’t prefer being bounced around, I’ve come to grips with the fact that occurrences such as these are part and parcel to traveling in a single-engine prop plane.
How wonderful it would be never to encounter turbulence or moisture, if the temperature in the cockpit remained a comfy 72 degrees, and we had nothing but clear skies and tail winds all the way—but this just isn’t reality. If we flew only in optimal conditions, we’d spend less time in the air and more time on the ground wishing we were in the air.
On the other hand, unfavorable VFR conditions sometimes force us to adjust or even cancel our flight plans altogether. When a would-be four-hour flight turns into a 12 to 16-hour drive, one must be willing to suck it up and do what needs to be done. While it can be frustrating, I learned early on to make peace with the phrase “change in plans.”
Anyone aspiring to do extensive travel in their home-built airplane must be willing to take such things in stride. Through my experiences as a home-built frequent flyer, I have not only become more comfortable in a variety of situations, I have also learned to appreciate each and every trip in all of its uniqueness—warts and all.
Had I not been willing to embrace my husband’s passion for taking to the skies, it would truly have been my loss. Aside from spending quality time with my best mate, getting a bird’s-eye view of this great nation of ours from sea to shining sea has given me a unique perspective of the vastness, diversity, and beauty that is America; and I’ve even set foot on foreign shores.
Whether it’s an island adventure, a fly-in, a weekend excursion, a holiday gathering, or simply meeting up somewhere for a bite to eat, the social aspect of recreational flying is not to be underestimated. Scott and I have forged strong bonds of friendship and camaraderie with folks we’ve met as a result of building and flying our own airplane.
Yellowstone 2009 (Photo by Andrew Brandt)
I’m not suggesting that caution be thrown to the wind—a degree of fear is healthy and even necessary in high-risk activities, but I do encourage hesitant flying buddies to expand their horizons. My hours in the passenger seat of the RV have shown me that the fear factor while traveling in a small aircraft is relative to personal experience and how far one is willing to push the boundaries of what they are comfortable doing.
Though I wish I could share a fool-proof formula for helping reluctant fliers overcome their trepidation, I’m not convinced there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. While experience goes a long way in alleviating fear of the unknown, taking the first apprehensive steps toward gaining experience calls for a measure of moxie that comes from within.
Flying is not without risk. As with many activities that human beings choose to engage in, bad things can and certainly do happen. But without risk there is no gain … no achievement … no exhilaration. It comes down to this: Unless your reluctance to trust in your aircraft and/or your pilot is well-founded, you sure are missing out on a whole lot of fun!
Teal Blue Waters of the British West Indies
Snowcaps of Colorado
Pennsylvania Dutch Farmlands
Canyon Waterways of Lake Powell Reservoir
Colors Over New England
Mighty Coastline of the Pacific Northwest
More to follow ...
Come Fly With Me
Scott’s Tips for Recruiting the Woman in Your Life as Your Flying Buddy
We pilots, being adventurous types by nature, know that cruising around in an airplane that was built in our garage will be great fun. Chances are that the woman in your life is a bit reluctant to just climb in and join in your exploits. And who could blame her? But the idea of your gallivanting around while she sits at home awaiting the return of her knight in shining aluminum probably wouldn’t be a big hit either.
In our travels, Deb and I have talked with pilots who expressed regret that their significant others are not willing participants. If you’d rather have her as your flying buddy than go it alone, I offer the following suggestions. I had some of these things figured out beforehand, and some of them are the result of hindsight and lessons learned along the way.
- Involve her in the project early on. Otherwise, it’s your thing and not hers.
- Her comfort is important. I installed a full interior to help keep the noise down and the cold out. Regular headsets make for bad hair and sore ears, so I bought my flying buddy the in-ear type.
- Become comfortable with your aircraft and confident in your abilities before taking her up.
- Take nothing for granted. Is her seat high enough to see over the cowl?
- Keep the early flights to about an hour in good weather with calm winds. You want her first experiences to be memorable in a good way. One bad memory will outlive 1,000 good ones.
- Some things are best done alone at first. I had flown across the country three times before attempting it with Deb. Much experience was gained that would have been difficult with a passenger.
- I strive to keep cross-country legs to 3 hours or less. Potty stops and leg stretches go a long way to improving the mood and attitude of your buddy.
- Once she’s comfortable flying, get her involved. Deb looks for traffic, listens to radio calls, writes down instructions, looks up airport information, and serves lunch.
- Find mutually interesting places to stop and visit. She may not want to see every aviation museum known to man. This is about sacrifice. Regardless of where you end up, you got to fly there, right?
- In-flight weather service is the best investment you’ll make for those long trips. It provides the PIC with more information and your flying buddy with peace of mind.
Wow...the best of the best....
...is what this post is.
....and Deb,,,,one word describes you and your attitude toward your marriage and Scott: Commitment!
Other wives and husbands would do well to remember what they said to each other at the altar.
Thanks very much,
Perfect words, perfectly timed
Debra and Scott,
I sure do want to thank you for your post. Flying has been my vocation, but building an aircraft has not been hers. She has read, and reread, your story twice now and I think she gets it. We start making noice this fall after we move to Langley AFB, and the option to participate is hers. I admire the many destinations you captured, and we love to travel, so in time I think she'll recognize the 'magic carpet' potential. Congratulations to both of you...you did it right!
Thank you for this post. I will be asking my wife to read this.
Excellent write up!
I think it is great when a husband and wife can share a common interest. Most wives may not be as passionate about flying as their other half, but kudos for trying. Guys, don't forget to reciprocate! Yeah, walking around a mall or craft show may not be the highlight of your life, but showing your support will take you miles!
ScrollF4, let me know when you guys get closer to PCS'ing. If you need anything, contact me! Anything! We'll have to have y'all over for dinner and talk like new RV builders! :p
We Don't Know What to Say...
... to comments like these! We're humbled by and appreciative of your generous words. If our write-ups help to encourage, motivate, or inspire others within the VAF community, then we've hit the nail on the head. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. :D
Scott & Deb
WOW! This is my favorite posting in a while. I will be printing this one out for my better half to read. She has not been looking forward to that day when my RV9A starts flying. I am hoping that reading this will will inspire her to keep an open mind. Thanks so much for sharing!
Deb and Scott:
I think every pilot who wishes for his wife to be a flying buddy needs to read this and share it with her... What a great article and great advice! I've heard so many stories of first flights (wives, kids, all sorts of people) where the pilot chose a rough day, or did stupid show-off stunts and made the person sick or scared the **** out of them enough to make them never want to fly again. I flew with my non-pilot ex-husband ONE time only-- Soon after earning my Private ticket, we went out on a sort of cold, windy day. I could put that Cherokee anywhere I wanted it, and was quite proud of my skillful landing that day, but the turbulence and the sideslip on final made him just about mess his pants. The fact that he was NOT in control probably messed with his head too. To me, it was fun and a display of my new "talent." In hindsight, I'm pretty sure he just wondered why this crazy woman was trying to kill him. :eek:
That experience taught me alot about the importance of a gradual, planned approach to first-flights, which I've since done for any new passenger, including Young Eagle flights. Part of my job is performing demonstration flights for potential LSA buyers and their wives-- Often, the pilots (usually guys) want to wring out the airplane & test its capabilities, but their wives require completely the opposite approach-- smooth, safe & comfortable is the key. Sort of like the airlines, before they went to the "cattle-car" approach...
Don't let the fickle nature of EAA publications get you down; I've worked there as an intern, submitted things to several editors, been published a couple times, been disappointed more often than not. They're just really hard to work with. If no luck with EAA, perhaps Kitplanes or Plane & Pilot would run it... and they might even pay you for it. No doubt it will be circulated around VAF!
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