The Big Jump
Idron's aerodrome, east of Pau, was an airfield as it exists there (or existed there ?) a little everywhere in France near medium cities, with its wooden " Club House " and its waved can hangars filled with planes and gliders, under the roofs of which the carcasses of fuselages or wings were suspended. This airfied overflowed activity: model aircraft making, home builds, acrobatics, soaring, parachuting, brief all the outfit of the homo-avis was there. From the very first moments, I felt there this atmosphere of passion and enthusiasm, serene and shared enjoyment. Discussions went good train: it was there question of journeys, solo, figure of acrobatics. Perpetual question which followed a two friends meeting in the Club was inevitably " did you fly ? ".
There I met my first instructor, who was also the instructor. It was a small dry chap, grey hair and annoys in necklace answering Jean's first name. He always raised a smile so sure of him that he almost persuaded in the indifference.
By a warm and foggy afternoon of October, I went to my first flight. I discovered the object which was going to become the instrument of my learning by making, under the custody of my instructor, a ceremonial at least surprising for the greenhorn that I was, but which would henceforth be a part integral of my life of flying man:pre-flight visit: systematic check of elevators, gears and oil. " Which confidence! " I said to myself. " India Mike " was Cessna 150 which had certainly trained many pilots. The livery white - old-looking ochre was not the best taste and the smell getting free of the cockpit already gave me sickness while the engine did not still turn. Jean, who I always called Sir, invited me to sit down in left seat. Rare explanations he gave me, I did not retain any of it. A series of mysterious actions, commented in an incomprehensible language, resulted in the started of the engine. After an even less understandable radio message, the plane moved off towards the runway threshold. Cramped on the stick (the steering wheel more exactly), I underwent, not without anxiety, the starts of this frail aircraft on the jolts of the turfed taxiway. " India Mike " stopped at the runway threshold and a new series of actions which I did not try any more to understand preceded alignment. The instructor took my hand to the throttle which he hurried to crush on the dashboard. Sound, already consequent level, increased violently. The vibrations of the landing gear on the turfed runway took such an amplitude as I not my made war of illusions as for our fate : if this machine managed, luckily , to unstick its wheels of the airfied, we would have certainly the pleasure to see them quit in the air. But it was not anything of it. Vibrations stopped. We were flying …
First lesson consisted in maintaining the horizontal rectilinear trajectory, by heading towards some remarkable mark on the ground : antenna, water tower, factory chimneys. Easy, would you tell me ? Not a tall ! " India Mike " was not very conciliating. No more than the turbulences which increased the sickness which I underwent since the rolling. To crown the whole, the remarks annoyed by my instructor fused in this language always so foreign for me :
"Your speed ! Oh common ! Stop moving this stick, you're not cooking !"
Return was painful. I did not act any more. I underwent. The landing was a reassurance. I expected a criticism of my behavior on behalf of the instructor, an appreciation on my capacity in the flight, but not … On the airfied he recovered his smile and contented with filling the first line of my flight log book and with fixing me a new meeting.
Of return in my car, my sickness took the taste of the bitterness :
" - Which disappointment ! I say myself. It was so that, fly ? "
All the flights which my imagination had been able to create, no one looked like this. All these imaginary flights had in common the sensation of prosperity and the obedience of the machines which took me above. Many flights would be still necessary and many years would pass by before the happiness given by real flight equals and exceeds that of my imagination. But for the moment I was in the grip of the doubt :
" - How do I can pilot if I am a sick by plane ? If I do not understand anything in the language of my instructor ? If I am frightened by the sound level? If I am not even capable of maintaining the plane in rectilinear flight in bearing ? "
Fortunately, at nineteen years old, freedom from care gets over it fast and this cruel experience had not altered at all my irresistible attraction towards this airfied, these hangars, these people …
I was tormented by the sickness from the beginning of the second flight .
" You're sick, arn't you ? ! Eh ? My instructor asked , looking to my face turning frome the white to evel green,
-Yes, I admitted,
-Don't worry ! We're going to arrange that! "
The treatment which it underwent me was at least violent. It consisted simply in moving the plane everywhere : flying wing down , turning to big slope, sinking into vertiginous dives, follow-up of crushing resources. This treatment, practised in the beginning of every lesson, turned out of a incredible efficiency. For the rest, and although bit by bit, helping custom, I took taste in flying, it was necessary to return me obviously : I was not very bright. For witness, the chronic annoyance of my instructor as for my performance, until the same day of my first flight solo. In surroundings of ten hours of flight double commands, the flying student must have to fly solo. To reach this step, the main training consists in making "laps" , that is a takeoff, a tour of the airfied, a landing chaining a new takeoff (touch and go), etc. Purpose being to master these critical phases of flight, because close to the ground. A student never knows beforehand when he will fly solo. During a normal session of training double commands,the instructor decides to get out of the the aircraft and to leave the student alone. It supposes naturally that this one shows a sufficient mastery of piloting to earn the right to fly with its own wings.
Having exceeded fifteen hours, I waited my turn impatiently because flying solo with a number of flight hours double commands comparable of it to the average of the flying students, it was to gain confidence in me which was lacking so much to me. But I was also eaten away by the anxiety because it is necessary to make the Big Jump, because one meets himself alone in the sky, because the instructor is not any more there to catch up error and because error has only one signification: death. This anxiety was all the more big as my progress was not blatant, I even had the impression to decline. This day there I showed myself particularly bad: too strong plan, or too weak, forget the flaps, of the carbheat… The annoyance of the instructor was for its height. Following a too long landing, after which we had to taxi back to the runway threshold, he stopped violently the plane, unfastened its belt and went out by cursing:
" - I'm fed up with pilots as you ! It's time you learn to manage by yourself. You make me three laps and think well of what you are doing ! I listen to you at the radio. ", and he slammed the door.
I stayed there, a second fraction, bewildered, contemplating the empty seat next to me. Without thinking, I pushed mechanicaly the throttle and began to taxi towards the runway threshold, alone …
" - Alone, I said to myself, which madness, I'm not ready … "
The certainty that this flight was going to be me fatal began to invade me but it seemed to me that it was impossible to disentangle me. I threw a despaired glance to the trees lining the taxiway, saying to me that it was there the last time. At the runway threshold, I made the operations which had become me henceforth familiar, such a robot unwinding its only program. The plane took off sooner because relieved of the instructor's weight. I recited actions to be made in a loud voice, as to make me deaf in the assaults of my terrified thoughts:
" - Three hundred feet, variometer positive : pull up the flaps. Blow of eye of safety then turn to the left. Put in bearing at seven hundred feet and then turn to the left. Preparation of the plane for the landing and the radio message reporting downwing leg. "
As the plane approached the last branch of the circuit, "final leg" , last straight line before landing, my heart squeezed up. The last turn was taken too late. I overshot. A series of abrupt corrections were necessary to restore the machine on the runway axis. I was fighting. " India Mike reporting final leg to land ! " I roared in my microphone. The landing was a little bit heavy, and the delivery of power made swerve the plane which took off immediately. The following two laps were executed less restlessly, confidence getting the upper hand bit by bit over the fear. The last landing was the most made a success of day. Taxiing back towards the parking invaded by an indescribable enjoyment. I had never felt anything of fellow man in the folding screen. " I did it ! I did it ! ". And when I switched off the contacts, a friendly smile of my instructor was waiting for me:
" - Well you see ! It was not so difficult … "
All the persons I met afterward in the Club congratulated me. My face was paralyzed by a blissful smile which altered appreciably my delivery when I thanked them.
Return was epic ! In the car, excitement was for its height. I roared, I gestured everywhere. I had to evacuate this tension which only strong moments can make so intense. I savored my victory, shaken by roars of laughter, and, in this outburst of joy, I let go up in me this sensation of thoughtlessness and supreme serenity which carries only a name : happiness. I relived non-stop the film of my flight, and from time to time, I caught me pulling my steering wheel, what started a new laughter, followed by a profound sigh, whereas eyelids closing half, let escape a tear of joy. I had succeeded …
Many flights followed, every one's different. A grey weather day, the instructor took to me to practice above the clouds. After breakthrough, we resulted on a cloud sea which extended as far as the eye can see in exceptional visibility conditions with, for only relief, Pyrenees summits covered with snow by which looked like more hills than mountains, competing in whiteness and in brightness with clouds. The magic purity of this landscape we bewitched totally and were needed five good minutes for my instructor to break charm :
"Ok ! We're comin' here to work.
-To work, I thought. Is that working to practice turns in a so fantastic landscape ? Is that working to contemplate the shadow of his plane on a cloud ocean? "
I had become integrated well into the Club, although the majority of those of my age opted rather for the soaring. We met ourselves every on Sunday morning in the classroom of the aéro-club, to follow there courses with the aim of the obtaining of the B.I.A. (License of Initiation into the Aeronautics), which gave straight ahead to subsidies helping in the financing of the flying License. These courses were a source of youth for whom the thirst to learn never dries up : Aerodynamics, Meteorology, Navigation, History of the aviation, all the facets of the flight opened on unlimited domains, already letting suspect that this learning would never end, even when it was just begining.
The euphoria of this period prevented me from becoming aware of what brewed. Big black clouds already accumulated on the future of this airfied which due to the privileged situation, incited the wild appetites of the founders, stirred the tentacles of the local elect, what gave a reason to live to local residents having made build their house in the border of an aerodrome which existed since the aviation exists.
Continuation in...Destruction of an ancient memorial