Bitten by the Aviation Bug Again (1997)

sears-holding-campus            My wife Terri and I were working at Sears Corporate in Hoffman Estates in 1997. I was the Associate Buyer for Cookware and Terri was a Merchandise Analyst for Men’s Outerwear and Accessories. Working at Sears Corporate Headquarters was an amazing experience. We lived in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago where fun activities, restaurants, and beautiful countryside abounded.   Each weekend, Terri and I would go and explore the surrounding villages, or we would trek down to the city to take in the art museums, restaurants, and the plethora of shopping venues.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 6.09.03 AM            We were exploring “things to do” one upcoming weekend, and in the local paper we read about the Air Expo taking place at Lake in the Hills Airport, just down the road a few miles from our home in Algonquin. “Terri, can we go check out the airshow,” I asked. “Sure,” she said. The following Saturday, I was excited and ready to rekindle my then, thirteen year absence from aviation. Walking around all those airplanes, checking out the interiors of some of those incredible machines, talking to pilots about their love of aviation was an amazing experience. We watched the airshow and folks I must say, “the Aviation Bug bit me once again.” On the drive home and for days afterward, all I talked about was my glory days in aviation and how much I missed it, and Terri heard what I was saying.

“So Eric, what would it take for you to be able to get back in the air,” Terri asked. “I guess I need to find an instructor that would be willing to give me an extended flight review and help me get back up to speed,” I replied. “So, your birthday is coming up soon, why don’t we do just that,” she smiled. “You’re kidding right,” I said. “You are so passionate about flying, and it is something you gave up a long time ago, let’s get you back in the air,” she grinned.

dacy           I began searching for flight instructors in the area and it seemed that most of the local instructors were “time builders,” looking only to teach enough to build enough hours in order to be hired by the airlines. I was looking more for an instructor who taught because he/she loved it. I was looking for someone like Evelyn Johnson, who cared about her/his students and the only time building they were interested in was the time they could spend helping a student become a safe and proficient pilot. With some suggestions from a few local pilots, I found just such an instructor, teaching at a little grass strip called Dacy Airport in Harvard, IL.

014089            A few days later, I found my old logbook stored away in a footlocker, and with great excitement, Terri and I left for Harvard, IL. “Hi, my name is Maggie Dodson,” the flight instructor greeted me with a smile. “What can I do for you,” she asked. We exchanged introductions, and I told Maggie that I had been away from aviation for several years, and it was my desire to begin flying again. She asked if I had a current medical and I told her that I was going to take care of that soon. She then looked through my logbook, smiled, and said, “We should be able to get you back in the air soon Eric.” “Let’s get you working on some ground school study so you can get back up to speed on the regulations, flight planning, etc., and then schedule your first flight,” she beamed. I was so ready to fly again that I began my studies with a renewed vigor and commitment.

Despite the wonderful flight training Evelyn Johnson had given me, the thirteen-year absence from flying made me more than rusty with my flying skills. I needed to review the basics again, and Maggie was so patient. Within a few hours I was able to handle all the basic air maneuvers, and my landings were improving.   We even flew a cross country or two, to help me re-discover my pilotage and dead reckoning skills. After about ten hours in the airplane, and after a thorough oral examination of FAA Regulations Part 91, Maggie said, “Congratulations Eric, I am going to endorse your logbook for your flight review.” “Welcome back to aviation my friend,” she said.

1930294_23872293740_2241_n           Since 1997, I have made a commitment to fly at least once a month to maintain my currency and proficiency. As a flight instructor, CAP Mission Pilot and CAP Instructor Pilot, I usually am able to get up in the air at least once a week, and sometimes more. For the past 21 years, I have not only flown for fun, I made the choice in early 2000, to become an aviation professional, and to pass on my love of aviation to others.

In my next post, I will share with you a few stories about my professional pilot training in Naples, Florida where I earned my Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot Certificate, Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, Multi-Engine Rating, and Instrument Instructor Rating. In future posts, I will share with you some of my adventures as a full-time flight instructor and now, part-time instructor.   Stay tuned!


An Aviation Hiatus

ibelonginthe air          Like most newly minted private pilots, when I earned my wings back in 1983, I took the members of my family for a flight, and then flew with most of my friends. There was nothing like sharing with others the joy, the thrill, and the beauty of seeing our world from those lofty heights. However, other things in life got in the way of my new hobby, like it does for so many others.


The costs associated with aviation can become excessive, and unless you use aviation for personal or business travel, or you begin working on an additional rating, or you purchase your own airplane and just buzz around he skies for fun, a new pilot can become inactive long before she/he has acquired enough experience to be proficient.

shield_logoI was in my freshman year of college when I received my private pilot certificate.  Between my activities with Civil Air Patrol, the difficult classes of my first year in college, and a necessary transfer to another university, my time and financial ability to fly once a week, or even every two weeks diminished. By early spring of 1984, after only a few months after earning my wings, I was no longer current, nor was I proficient.   School was difficult, my finances were all going to support my education, and I was attending a college that was nearly 100 miles away from my home airport in Morristown, TN.   In 1984, I reluctantly hung up my wings, and I did not fly again until thirteen years later in the fall of 1997


In my next post, I will share with you, how my attendance at an airshow, a birthday gift from a loving spouse, and the patience of a flight instructor in a neighboring village in Illinois, brought me back to aviation. Since that time, I have not only flown for pleasure, but I now teach others how to experience this amazing sport, this incredible past-time, and this unexpected avocation.

Stay tuned,   Eric+

Check ride Prep and the Big Day

cap pilot wings                     After I successfully completed my solo cross-country flights, and after I successfully passed the FAA Private Pilot written exam, it was time to begin preparing for my check ride. The FAA check ride is an oral and practical exam through which, an FAA Designated Examiner evaluates the pilot’s flying and knowledge abilities, and then determines if they qualify for the FAA Private Pilot Certificate. If a student pilot’s flight instructor is also the FAA Designated Examiner, the required three hours of preparation for the check ride, must be conducted by another flight instructor.

Evelyn assigned Noble a kind, patient flight instructor to conduct my preparation for the FAA check ride. Noble spent a few hours with me reviewing for the oral portion of the exam, by covering all of the FAA regulations, the aircraft systems and performance charts, cross-country planning, emergency procedures, etc. Next, Noble conducted two preparatory flights with me to evaluate my ability to fly all of the maneuvers to standard, and to assess my airmanship. After that flight, Noble sat me down and said, “Eric, you are ready my friend. Let’s tell Evelyn that you are ready for your check ride.” I beamed and said, “Thank you Noble!”

A week later, nervous and anxious, I arrived at the airport and met Evelyn who said, “OK Eric, are you ready?” I said reluctantly, “Yes ma’am.” “Well, today I am not your flight instructor. Today, I am the examiner and I will evaluate your knowledge and airmanship. I will be fair, but I will not give you any instruction,” Evelyn directed. We sat down at one of the tables in the airport lounge and began the exam. An hour later, I was sweating and mentally exhausted.  Evelyn told me, “You are ready to do the flight portion Eric. I will give you time to pre-flight the, then we will do the air work,” she said.

After a thorough pre-flight, and after several pointed questions about the aircraft, required documents for flight, etc., we were airborne and flying toward the practice area. After demonstrating stalls, slow flight, steep turns, and the rest, we descended to 1000’ AGL and I demonstrated the ground reference maneuvers to Evelyn. Next, we flew back to the airport and I demonstrated normal, short field, soft field, and takeoffs and landing, and simulated emergency landings. “Let’s taxi back to the airport Eric,” Evelyn smiled.

Evelyn said, “Go ahead and tie down and secure the airplane, and I will see you inside Eric.” I was confused though, because Evelyn did not tell me whether I had passed or failed. I was uncertain whether I would have to retake the check ride or not. As I walked into the office though, there was my Dad and Evelyn beaming and clapping. “Congratulations Eric, you did it, you are a pilot! “ She handed me my temporary pilot certificate, gave me a hug, and said, “You did so well, I am proud of you.”1200px-Private_Pilot

In my next blog, I will share a few stories about some flights I made with my high school friends and family. I will also talk about the long hiatus from aviation, which took me away from my passion and vocational aspirations. Stay Tuned.




Cross County Flight Training

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.38 AM            The Federal Aviation Administration defines a “cross country flight” as a flight that “requires a point of landing that is more than 50 nm straight-line distance from the original point of departure.” As a part of the training to obtain a private pilot certificate, the student must accomplish at least 3 hours of dual cross country training, and at least 5 hours of solo cross country flying (along with some additional distance and leg requirements) and a dual night cross country flight.

Soon after my first solo flight, Evelyn Johnson my instructor began preparing me to begin the next phase of training, which was cross-country flying. Now, this training took place long before we had GPS satellite navigation in our aircraft. We were using land based navigational aids such as the NDB (non-directional beacon) and VOR (VHF omnidirectional range) that showed us with some precision, where we were throughout the flight.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.16 AM            Before we ever jumped into the airplane and took off for a distant airport, I spent hours studying about Sectional Charts, the navigational aids just mentioned, and how to: plot a course, correct for wind drift, correct for magnetic deviation, plan time and fuel usage. I learned about controlled airspace, how to communicate with Air Traffic Control, and how to understand the different runway markings and taxiway signs. All of this study took a few weeks and during that time, I would go to the airport and cram, and spend some solo time perfecting my landings and maneuvers.

Eventually, Evelyn said, “I think we are ready for our first cross-country flight, Eric.” I want you to plan a trip the Tri-Cities Airport for our next lesson. Do all of the planning and conduct a “Weight and Balance” check for the flight. Bring all of your planning to me and we will review it, and then we will make the flight.

The following week I showed up with all of my flight planning materials, and Evelyn meticulously reviewed all of my paperwork. She made some suggestions and corrections but overall, I had successfully planned for the flight. “OK Eric, go on outside and pre-flight the plane, and I will be out in a minute,” she commanded. Soon we were rolling down the runway and climbing out to our cruise altitude of 3,500’ MSL. I leaned the engine, checked out all the of the engine instruments, and turned to my True Heading, which should have taken us to Tri Cities airport.

dead reck           After a few minutes Evelyn asked me, “Eric, where are you, show me on the chart?” I looked outside and looked at the chart and said, “I’m lost.” “OK Eric, where is the largest road below us,” she asked. “Right there Evelyn,” I pointed. “What road do you think that is on the chart,” she pointed. “This one I believe, because there is a railroad track paralleling the road, and here it is on the chart,” I said. “You’re right Eric,” she beamed. “Now keep your head out the window, check your Directional Gyro and maintain your True Heading, and in a few minutes tell me where you are again,” she directed.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.58 AM           I was able throughout the rest of the flight to show Evelyn where I was at all times. I was able to use dead reckoning and pilotage, to make the flight all the way to Tri-Cities airport. Soon we landed safely, and we went into the FBO to ask the attendant to sign my logbook as proof of my landing. “When you do this flight solo Eric, make sure you get someone to sign your logbook to show you were here,” she pointed. “So Eric, on our way back, I want you to try and navigate home using pilotage and dead reckoning, but I also want you to fly the VOR from the Tri –Cities back home,” she stated. Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.38.06 AMAgain, we took off and headed back home. I picked up my True Heading, leaned the engine, and checked all the engine instruments. “All OK,” I said. “OK, let’s pickup the 265 degree FROM radial from the Holston Valley VOR, and see if you can track it back home,” Evelyn taught. I did and I was able to correct for the southerly winds that were blowing us off course.

Soon, were back home on the ground and Evelyn spent some time critiquing our flight and providing me with some really fine instruction. “OK Eric, you did very well today; next flight we will go to McGhee Tyson and then Chattanooga airport for your next cross-country,” she said. “Do all of your planning and let’s discuss it before we go,” she said. That next flight went very well, and I learned quite a bit through some mistakes I made. Evelyn taught me on that flight how I could contact the Flight Service Station in the event I became lost. She also taught me how to use the NDB to track my progress and to navigate using that instrument.

My next phase of training was my solo cross countries, where I took off from that little airport and flew to Tri Cities airport all by myself, and then the next flight which was Morristown to Tri-Cities to Morristown to Knoxville to Chattanooga and back. All of those flights were safe and yet, I learned so much from some minor mistakes.   With all of my cross-country flights complete, the next phase of training included night flying and the preparation for my check ride. I will share more about those flights in my next blog post.


Stay tuned,


16th Birthday – First Solo Flight

firstsoloebj-8-18-1981“Happy 16th Birthday, are you ok” my mother asked me as I walked into the kitchen that morning. This was going to be an important day in my flying career.  “Are you ready for your first solo flight,” Mother asked. “I guess, but I am scared to death,” I exclaimed. “You’ll do fine, Eric,” she stated offering me some encouragement.  This day could be the day of my first solo, because the FAA requires that before a student makes their first solo flight, they must have reached the age of 16 years old.  It just so happened that we were going to the airport that day for one of my flight lessons. I looked outside at the weather, and the low clouds and light rain showers seemed to make the possibility of a solo flight impractical. Nonetheless, we loaded up the car and drove to the Morristown Airport located 30 miles away for yet another flight lesson. As we drove, the clouds seem to break apart and a little glint of sunlight began to shine through. I held out hope that I could, at least practice some “touch and go” landings with Evelyn that day.

colovision           We arrived at the airport and Evelyn (my instructor) beamed and said, “Hi Eric, Happy birthday!” I smiled back.  Evelyn was more than just my flight instructor, she was my mentor, friend, flight instructor, and encourager, and she saw so much more in me, than I could ever see in myself. Just one month before this day, I discovered during my FAA medical exam that I have an eye condition that affects my ability to perceive certain colors. I have a red/green color deficiency, and because of that condition, I thought my dream of a flying career was all but lost. Evelyn did not give up on me though. As soon as she learned I was giving up, she sent me a lengthy letter filled with encouraging words, as well as a challenge that reframed how I would face discouragement the rest of my life.

EvelynBryanJohnson-highesttimepilot-90396Evelyn wrote, “sometimes life gives us lemons, and we can either become bitter and resentful, or we can make lemonade.” She continued, “Eric, you cannot change the fact God made you with this condition of color blindness, but you can change how you deal with it.” She encouraged me to not give up on my dream, to come back and finish my training, and she promised that she would help me. Evelyn could have just said, “well another student has quit before completion” but she did not give up on me. Evelyn even arranged my appointment with the FAA to take the “Light Gun Test” that would remove the night restriction from my Student Pilot Certificate (which I passed).


So, here I was at the airport on my 16th birthday, on a drizzly day about to pre-flight the airplane anticipating the possibility of making my first solo flight. Evelyn, walked up to that little Cessna 152 (tail number N5447B) and said, “Are you ready?” I said, “Yes ma’am!” “Alrighty Eric, let’s practice some takeoffs and landings in the pattern today,” she instructed.   After the first takeoff, Evelyn commanded, “Give me a normal landing Eric.” I lined up on final, and my sight picture was perfect, speed was spot on. We crossed the threshold, round out, and there it was, “squeak, squeak.”  I performed a perfect main gear landing, with a gentle touchdown of the nose wheel. “Nice one Eric,” she exclaimed, “Let’s do that again.” Around the pattern again, and I repeated the last landing perfectly. “One more,” she stated. So, we went around again and I had three perfect landings in a row. “Eric, let’s taxi back to the run-up area,” Evelyn instructed.

I knew what was coming. This was it. She is getting out and I am going to fly this bird alone. “Eric, you are a good and safe pilot, and today on your 16th birthday, you are going to solo,” she smiled and beamed. “Give me three touch and go landings, then come back to the ramp,” she smiled with confidence. The anxiety began to swell in my stomach, but I knew I could do this, because Evelyn had confidence in me. My training immediately kicked in, and I began to verbally call out the checks and crosschecks  Evelyn had taught me.

firstsoloebj-8-18-1981             Soon, after that first takeoff, I realized the airplane climbed so much better without the additional 125 lb. Evelyn in the right seat. “Wow,” I thought, this bird can fly. Soon, I turned to the downwind leg and made my first pattern call, “Morristown Traffic, Cessna 5447B, downwind, runway 23.”   I was abeam the landing point on the downwind, and I pulled the throttle to 1500 rpms, put in one notch of flaps, cleared the final for traffic, and at the 45 degree point, I made my base leg turn. “Morristown Traffic, Cessna 5447B, base, runway 23,” I called on the radio. “Speed is good, second notch of flaps, clear final again, turn final,” I called out. I was now on final for my first solo landing. I was nervous, but I fell back on my training, and as I crossed the threshold I noticed I was a little high. I pulled the throttle to idle, and began my flare, and it was fine.


I settled to the runway as I pulled back on the yoke, and the landing was firm, but safe. I retracted the flaps, pushed in the carburetor heat and I gave it full throttle, as the little craft leapt off the runway.  Two landings later, and a taxi to the ramp, I was greeted by my parents and a smiling cheering flight instructor, who had a pair of scissors in her hand. What are those for I thought, then I remembered, she is going to cut my shirttail off and hang it on the wall symbolizing the ritual of my first solo flight. My parents were snapping pictures of Evelyn doing just that. I was beaming and proud as I followed the path of so many aviators before, who made their first flights in the airplane all alone, flying “by the seat of their pants.”


Evelyn was also a Lieutenant Colonel in Civil Air Patrol/U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, and I was a Cadet 2nd Lieutenant. As a part of the ritual of the day, I had the privilege of having my flight instructor pin solo wings on my uniform. After the shirttail cutting ritual, I ran inside, quickly changed into my uniform and Evelyn finished the celebration with the wing pinning. I could not believe that at the age of 16, before I even had my driver’s license, I had officially become a solo pilot.



It was such a boost for a young man, that struggled with self-confidence, and for the most part was shy and unassuming, to do something that only a small percentage of the population had ever accomplished. My life changed that day, and it was because one wonderful child of God saw more in me, than I ever could see in myself. That really is the gift we teachers and coaches can give to others. When we can look beyond the outer shell, and see deeply inside the heart of others, and through our encouragement and yes, our challenging words we help someone see their own potential. Encouraging and coaching surely is the gift we teachers share, or at least that has been my joy and passion as an aviation professional and yes, now as a priest.

In my next few blog posts, I hope to share with you stories of the flight lessons the led up to my private pilot check ride in 1984. Beyond that I hope to share with you a little more about my return to aviation in 1997, my professional flight training in 2000, and the joy I have had as both a full-time and now part-time Certified Flight Instructor. Stay tuned!


Pre-Solo Medical Exam and “Color Blind”

colovision            “First Solo flight” is the day the flight instructor exits the airplane and tells the student, “take it around three times and come pick me up.” It is a milestone in a student’s aviation training. It is the day that all the hard work, study, and preparation culminate in you, the student, taking off and landing the aircraft safely, all by yourself. It is an anxiety producing experience for both student and instructor.

Before the student can make this flight, he or she not only has to complete hours of practical flight and ground training, pass a pre-solo written exam, but she/he must also pass an FAA medical exam. I scheduled my examination at the office of our local FAA Medical Examiner and arrived on time, ready to get past this hurdle in my training. I was in very good health for a 15 year old young man, so I had no worries that something would come up in the exam, which would preclude me from further training.

The doctor checked my vision, and explained that I had 20/10 uncorrected vision. He explained, “that means that what most people can see clearly at 10 feet, Eric you can see clearly from 20 feet.” I had “super vision” I thought to myself.  “The rest of the exam should be a breeze,” I thought. The doctor then pulled from a drawer a little brown book that he opened up and said, “What number do you see?” “What number are you talking about doc,” I replied. He kept turning pages, and I only saw a few of the numbers on the pages of colored dots. It was then that the doctor told me, “Eric, you have defective color vision so, I am going to have to put a restriction on your medical certificate; no night flying.”

“What exactly does that mean doctor,” I asked. “Well, you can apply for a SODA (Statement of Demonstrated Ability) and get a waiver to fly at night, but right now, you will struggle to distinguish the colors of the lights at the airport, used to differentiate runway from taxiway lights and other signals.” This news was devastating for this young 15 year old, who had dreams of flying fighter jets after college and ROTC.

I left the doctor’s office with my new Student Pilot Certificate/Third Class Medical Certificate, but with a memo on it that said, “Defective Color Vision, Restricted – No night flying.” I told my father, “I am quitting flying, Dad. My dream is busted because I cannot fly at night. The military will not take me as a pilot. I’m done.” So, I quit flying for a few weeks. I was depressed and discouraged, until my father (after one of his training flights) brought me a handwritten letter from my instructor, Evelyn.  That letter and the words of encouragement enclosed changed my life.  Eventually, it was the encouragement of one person that eventually, brought me back to my passion of flying again. I will share more about Evelyn’s encouraging letter and my eventual “First Solo Flight” at the age of 16, in my next blog post. Stay tuned.

“Pre-Solo Training”

desktopAs my flight training continued, I was beginning to enjoy this newfound hobby more and more each week. The next few lessons included some advanced maneuvers, which involved climbing to a safe altitude, to practice maneuvers that would test my ability to fly steep turns, and to control the aircraft at very slow speeds. Eventually, I would fly the airplane configured in such a way to induce a stall, the point at which the wings no longer create sufficient lift to maintain flight.steep turns These maneuvers can raise the anxiety level for a student pilot, but Evelyn had a way of making it seem easy. In addition, Evelyn taught me what to do, in case of an engine failure in flight, and she instilled in me, the training necessary to make an approach to a field in the event of such an emergency.

When teaching me this maneuver, Evelyn would pull the throttle to idle, and say, “Fly the plane (Best Glide speed), find a field, follow the checklist, attempt restart, call on the radio 121.5, squawk 7700 on the transponder, and make the approach to the field.” She summarized this process as, “Aviate, Evaluate, Troubleshoot, and Communicate.” With this practice maneuver, which could happen at any time and without warning, resulted in me making an approach to a field, descending to an altitude of 500’ above the ground, at which point Evelyn would say, “good job, you would have made it.”

I know that all sounds a bit frightening, but this type of training is essential for the student pilot to understand, control, and react to the aircraft in different configurations and situations. This training is crucial before the student attempts landing practice. Also, before we ever entered the traffic pattern to practice “Takeoffs and Landings,” Evelyn took me to a practice area a few miles from the airport, to practice “Ground Reference Maneuvers.”

ground ref            This series of maneuvers normally take place 1000’ above the ground (simulating the average traffic pattern altitude) one of which, involves flying around a rectangle on the ground, maintaining the same distance from the edge of the rectangle. This sounds easy, but this maneuver requires skills, which allow the student to correct for the effects of wind, as the aircraft flies along the box. Other ground reference maneuvers (S – Turns , Eights Around Pylons, Turns Around a Point) teach the student how to fly the aircraft in reference to a ground point, while maintaining consistent distance by correcting for wind drift. All of this practice is essential for preparing the student to fly the traffic pattern, which is an essential part of learning to land the aircraft.

traffic pattern            Once I had completed this phase of flight, Evelyn spent quite a bit of time with me in ground school, talking through the process of flying a proper traffic pattern. Evelyn and I discussed takeoff, climb out, the crosswind leg, downwind leg (and radio communications calls), base leg, and final. We discussed airspeeds, power settings, visual references for the turns, setting up a stabilized approach, crossing the threshold of the runway, and the “round out” and touchdown. The next few lessons included actually practicing all that she had taught me in ground school.


All went well, until I transitioned from stabilized approach to landing. I just could not land the aircraft without flaring to high or too low. This is not unusual for someone learning to fly. Evelyn’s patience during this time, and her ability to say the right thing at the right time, made it possible for me eventually, to actually land the airplane.

In my next post, I will share the story of my first solo flight on my 16th birthday, and I will share the stories of some of my dual and solo cross-country flights in East Tennessee.


My First Flight Lesson (circa 1980)


Words cannot capture the thrill I experienced on my first instructional flight with Evelyn Bryan Johnson. Before we ever left the ground, Evelyn taught me that safety was a fundamental aviation principal. “Eric, when we go up there in the air, we take a risk so, we must do all we can to insure the safety of our passengers, ouraircraft, and those on the ground around us,” she said as we walked toward the plane that first day.


“As we approach that airplane Eric, look at it from a distance for any obvious dents, missing parts, low tires, or anything that seems out of place,” Evelyn taught. When walked up to the doors of the airplane, Evelyn pulled out the Cessna 150’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) and she thoroughly reviewed the entire book with me. She turned to the Checklist Procedures section and proceeded to teach me how to “pre-flight” the aircraft.   “OK Eric, say out loud each item, then insure the item is verified,” She said. “Control Wheel Lock – Remove,” I called out. Then I removed the device from the yoke (steering control wheel) and placed it in the side pocket. “Ignition Switch – Off,” I said, and then I verified. Several minutes later, we had checked the tires, oil levels, fuel levels, and each control surface. We drained the fuel to insure there was no water present in the tanks. I had just completed my first pre-flight inspection.

c150 instrument panel

After a clumsy and flawed taxi to the runway, I was at the controls of this little airplane, sitting at the “Hold Short” line of Runway 23 at Morristown Municipal Airport. I was only 15 years old and ready to take to the air as a “student pilot.” Evelyn made our radio call, “Morristown Traffic, this is Cessna 5447 Bravo, taking off Runway 23.” With Evelyn’s assistance, I pushed the throttle forward slightly, and awkwardly used the rudder pedals and brakes to taxi into position, and then with Evelyn’s urging, I pushed the throttle all the way forward and we started to roll. Immediately Evelyn said, “Heels on the floor Eric.” That was Evelyn’s way of telling me to move my feet down off the brakes, and to use the rudder pedals only during the takeoff roll. “Call it out Eric, Airspeed is alive, Oil Pressure and Temperature in the Green, RPM’s full,” She instructed. These were additional safety callouts Evelyn taught me, which to this day, I use on every flight.

airspeed indicator

With her right hand on the yoke on her side of the plane, and my left hand on my yoke on my side and my other hand on the throttle (with Evelyn your hand had always better be on the throttle), we were rolling down the runway. As we approached 45-50 knots, Evelyn said, “Pull back gently on the yoke Eric, there you go, hold that, nice job.” We were flying! I was thrilled! I was a pilot. “See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

“See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

We eventually leveled off and Evelyn taught me to position the cowling of the nose of the aircraft, approximately three to four inches below the horizon, and to verify that I was not climbing or descending, by cross-checking it on the altimeter and vertical speed indicators. She also taught me to maintain a constant heading, by keeping the wings level, and at the same time, keeping the nose of the aircraft pointed at a consistent reference point on the ground, some distance ahead of us. “We then verify that we are maintaining a consistent heading using the Directional Gyro, Eric,” she reminded me.

Keeping my “head outside of the cockpit” was essential, and constantly scanning for traffic was a discipline Evelyn instilled in me from the beginning.  “As your eyes move in small increments across the sky from left to right, be vigilant for other aircraft Eric,” she said. Vigilance for other aircraft was a safety principal Evelyn lived by, one she taught me from day one, and one I teach my students every time we are in the aircraft.  Whether taxing, maneuvering in the air, or making a cross-country flight, scanning for other aircraft is always “safety first” in aviation.

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Eventually, the Hobbs meter indicated that our first flight was about to end and Evelyn inquired, “Let’s head back home; do you know where the airport is located Eric?” “No ma’am, I am a bit lost,” I said. “OK, where is the lake,” she asked. “Over there on our left,” I said proudly. “Good, now where is the main highway,” she inquired. “On our right,” I said. “OK, with the lake on our left and the main highway on our right, follow the road North,” she said. I exclaimed with glee, “There it is, there it is, I see it over there.!”

Evelyn grinned and said, “Good work Eric, now you know how to find the airport.” Eventually, we worked our way back to the traffic pattern, and Evelyn allowed me to keep my hand on the yoke and feet on the rudder pedals, even until we touched down and rolled off the runway. I never forgot that first lesson, and all she taught me on that first flight.  To this day, I still share some of that same knowledge with the students. After my first flight, I spent several more lessons going over the basics of flight:  how to turn the aircraft, initiate climbs and descents, execute climbing turns and descending turns, and we eventually explored slow flight, stalls, and traffic pattern flying.  My goodness, I was having so much fun!

In my next blog post, I will share with you some memories of the instructional flights that led up to my eventual “first solo flight” on 18 August 1981 (my 16th birthday).   I look forward to sharing that story with you in a few weeks.