Many students beginning their journey to be pilots start with what is called a "discovery flight," where a pilot instructor takes a prospective student up for a spin to give them a taste of aviation. Some instructors will give the pilot-to-be a little supervised hands on experience, to give them a taste of what is to come, should they commit to this path.
My discovery flight was on Dec. 21. Here's what happened.
"I'm going to let you handle the take-off, closely supervised, of course," said Tyler Peterson, flight instructor for Texarkana Flight Training.
First, the plane ambled down the runway, with the throttle set at a "fast walk," the floor pedals used to control the Cessna. A deer darts across the runway, with the plane having ample ability to brake.
"That's why taxi speed is roughly a fast walk," he said. "For occasions just like that."
The plane, after a series of turns and alignments, reached the point of departure at Texarkana Regional Airport. Peterson throttles up and gives the student a signal, indicating to pull back moderately on the yoke, at which point the small plane begins its ascent. The affects of motion, both the aircraft's heading higher as well as moderate air movement swaying the cockpit, are felt.
Peterson assures the student this is typical for such small planes.
"I find that flying small planes is the closest thing most pilots will get to flight like birds experience it," Peterson said.
Peterson then said, "I have the controls," at which point the student removed his hands from the yoke, Peterson taking charge of the aircraft.
"I'm going to take us to a certain altitude and point; then I'm going to turn it over to you and we are going to have some fun," he said cheerfully.
As the plane gamely aimed for its destination, the view at a couple thousand feet over Texarkana revealed a point of view people don't often see on the ground or even as a passenger in a large airliner. In just a small cabin, the student and instructor could see the landscape splayed out before them, roads, forests and more.
Peterson then said, "Take the controls and head east."
The same sensation of shifting motion took over as the airplane obeyed the urgings of the controls. A turn to the east, a turn to the west, the next challenge was a change in altitude.
"Alright, take us up to 3,500 feet," he said.
Once again, the sensations came as the aircraft went into a gentle climb.
"You are doing fine," he encouraged the student pilot. "A little nerves are natural. I've had students grab my arm and not want to let go until we were back on the ground. You do want to look up from the instruments and look around at the sky around you, though."
Then the time came to begin the return to the airport. Peterson brought up the plane's GPS and indicated the pink line.
"Follow that," he said. "When we get close enough, I'll take in for the landing." At which point, he began speaking in that cryptic patter and jargon that pilots and Air Traffic Control use.
"I know it sounds bewildering," he said. "You'll get used to it as you go through the training."
The Cessna gently angled onto the tarmac, descending from the sky. The landing, a smooth one described as a "greaser", signaled the discovery flight coming to a close, ended with a short taxi back to the Tac Air complex.
At this point, the student has a much better idea of what they want to do next. Some students launch into their initial pilot's license training almost immediately. Some may wait some time, sometimes a year, to line up both the time and financial commitment, of which aviation training demands some of both.
But for those who do make the commitment, they have become initiated into a world most do not know. And it all began with a flight of discovery.