I wanted to find a photo for my inaugural blog, and this is the first one I thought of. Why? Because when I think of flying, I think of challenge and adventure. (In case you don’t know it, I’m a pilot, a multi-engine, instrument, commercially rated pilot. I’ve also flown and competed in aerobatics.) So . . .
Challenge and adventure. My life has definitely been full of both.
When my life is working, when I’m learning, when I’m being engaged in a positive way I see it as adventure. And when there’s challenge . . . Well, there can be good challenge, and there can be bad challenge. My life has particularly fallen into the later category since I lost my husband, Patrick to pancreatic cancer, two years ago.
But going back to this photo – these two planes are sitting at the Daggett Airport in California, because the plane in the shadowed foreground, the one with its hatch open, lost an engine while I was flying it, and I had to make an emergency landing.
It was December 27, 2006 when Patrick and I loaded up 414PS, our beautiful, loyal twin Cessna 414, with fuel, luggage, two dogs, and took off to visit our ranch in New Mexico. I was flying left seat as pilot, and all was going well as we broke out of the clouds into a beautiful, sunny day, and continued to climb. And out of nowhere. . . I started to lose power on the right engine. Over the next few minutes, the situation continued to deteriorate and I had turned back to Van Nuys, when…
POW!!!!!! A HUGE noise came from the right engine!!! My hand was ready on the throttle, and it took me all of two seconds to completely shut the engine down.
I looked at Patrick, our eyes were wide. “I guess were landing now,” I said,
That day there was a 45-knot, almost direct crosswind as I made my approach. And as my husband liked to brag, I “greased” the landing.
Our poor crippled airplane sat for eight months while we investigated what it would take to replace its engine. It was hard, but we decided to sell the plane, and bought the sparkly King Air 200 that you see in the background of the photo – 400KW.
The day this photo was taken was my first solo flight in the new airplane. I had flown to Daggett to close up 414PS for the last time, and say good-bye (I can’t remember where Patrick was at that moment, but he hated that he couldn’t be there). It was bittersweet. We had flown 414PS, all over the country, trained intensively it, flown around spectacular thunderstorms that were the best firework shows we’ll ever see . . .
. . .and we’d argued in it, marveled in it, and always enjoyed ourselves. And now, I pulled the last of our stuff out of it: the extra charts, flashlights….and when I closed the cabin door to lock it, the dirt and grime that had accumulated over the last months crunched between the closing metal. It made me cringe, and I had to resist the urge to grab a hose and wash the whole airplane. I just hated hearing that grit on the airplane that had been so good to us and that we had taken such immaculate care of.
But I was already distracted about the flight home in the new, gleaming aircraft. It was going to be challenging; switches in different places, different systems, emergency procedures, and much bigger, and powerful. I was a bit intimidated about flying it solo. Luckily, there’s one good thing about an aircraft. – it comes with an operating manual. And I reminded myself that my hesitations would be short-lived. Soon, with experience, and some more schooling, I would know this plane as well as I knew the one I was leaving behind.
And so, in this photo – I am leaving my old, trusted plane, for a new and foreign one. And it’s much like what I’m facing now in my life – leaving the old one behind, and moving into the new one. One that is unknown, foreign, where nothing is where it used to be. However . . .
In my “personal” life, I didn’t have such a safe landing. I didn’t lose just one engine, I felt like I lost it all. I came down in flames, and crashed and burned when I lost Patrick. And from that wreckage I’m crawling out, still swimming in the ashes. Ahead is a new life, much like how the sparkling 400KW sits waiting in the photo. Beckoning. Challenging me. And there is fear in this new path, like in flying that new plane.
Unlike an airplane – my life doesn’t come with an operating manual. I’ve got to figure it out. By trial and error. And I have to find the strength to crawl over, and hopefully, pick myself up, walk in that door, and set myself behind the wheel.
You know, there’s a term for the most challenging flying environment you can fly, they call it “single pilot IFR.” IFR basically means you can’t see anything outside the aircraft and have to rely on your instruments inside the cockpit to fly by. “Single,” of course, means you have to do this all on your own.
So yes. I’m flying single pilot IFR these days. And doing my best to listen to my inner wisdom every chance I get. It’s the toughest learning curve I’ve ever had to face in life. And its challenge seems impossible at times. But who knows, I may come to find that I’m in the middle of my biggest adventure yet.