My hands grasped the yoke, turning, pushing and pulling it to adjust the plane in its various dimensions. At Chris’s urging, I even experimented as we banked a tad left and right.
After a few minutes, I realized that I hadn’t been breathing. Whatever. I was flying! It’s one thing to marvel at aerodynamics, but this was something else entirely. Like, mind-blowing. Here we were, in a vehicle that looked like a winged smart car and sounded like a lawn mower, and we were in the wide-open sky.
I peered over my left shoulder and saw little green squares, a snaking river, Tonka trucks at a construction site and black lines of highway. A few jets crossed our path, far above us, heading toward Reagan National. I was terrified and thrilled, and I would have screamed with delight if I hadn’t been worried about how it would upset my equilibrium. Because just then, the little bag was working its way back into my consciousness.
The fact is, I’ve been known to experience motion sickness in anything from a flight simulator to a minor earthquake. But from everything I’ve experienced, once I get behind the controls of a vehicle — on land or in water — I’m in good shape. I’d expected the same in the friendly skies. My stomach, however, had other ideas.
We flew across Interstate 95, and Chris followed a rectangular path to land at Stafford Regional Airport, just south of Quantico. The landing was so smooth, I barely knew that we were on the ground. As we taxied, I began to appreciate what pilots refer to as the $100 hamburger — they take a short flight, grab lunch, then head home. Thirsty and a bit unsettled, I probably would have paid $100 right then for a ginger ale.
But I would have to settle for some fresh air. We opened the vents, checked the air sock along the runway for wind direction and took off, heading northeast. Twenty minutes later, we’d crossed over the sparkling Potomac and landed at our home runway. Chris parked the plane on the grass and turned the key, and the propeller came to a stop. The fate of the little bag? Top-secret.
Outside the office, I met Tim Poole, president of the flight school. We sat at a picnic table, and he assured me that nausea is common for beginners but that it usually lessens with training. “It’s all about that third dimension,” he said. “Flying is different from other types of motion.”
I sat in the sun and watched a few flights take off before I got into my car. And then I drove back through the neighborhood and rolled over the speed bumps, which were — for the moment — about as much of the third dimension as I wished to pursue.
Kaplan is a freelance writer in Washington. Her Web site is www.melaniedgkaplan.com.