A wing and a prayer

Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness
Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness

“You look nervous – you okay?” DH put the car in park and laid his hand on my knee. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I’m fine,” I lied. “There’s no way I’m watching you all go up without me!”

I meant it: if my family was about to be in a plane crash, I was going down with them! I might be a pilot’s wife, but small planes still make me anxious. “It’s perfectly safe, isn’t it?” I asked.

DH looked out at the Cessna we’d hired. He gave a boyish grin. “Yep – it’s fine.” He held my gaze for several seconds. “Ready?”

I swallowed and felt the bubbles of anxiety begin to pop. “Yes, let’s go.”

"This is your pilot speaking!"
“This is your pilot speaking!”

I looked up. A few white, puffy clouds were drifting slowly across a clear blue sky and I wondered if we’d fly through them. Peering through the fencing, I saw a Cessna taxi-ing out; it stopped just short of the concrete airstrip. It was a bright day and at the furthest point the runway appeared to shimmer, creating the illusion of wetness. I’d seen all this before on previous visits to small airports and flight schools, but DH’s world – the glinting metal, engines, smell of machinery and fuel trucks – never fails to intrigue me.

After the paperwork was finalised, we walked out across the apron in the sunshine. The boys bounded towards the airplane in excitement – they’d been waiting for this day since we’d arrived in the States. As DH checked the plane, I found myself wondering how we’d all fit in. All four of us. The Cessna looked gleaming and airworthy, but … small.

How did my husband, who is at least six foot tall, spend several years giving flying lessons in such a tiny, cramped space, while students practised terrifying manoeuvres, rolls and engine failures?

The aircraft was red-and-white, with a white underbelly and two dark pinstripes running along its entire length. The propeller pointed upwards like a finger. DH climbed onto the plane and pulled a rod out of the fuel tank and studied it.

“Everything alright?” I asked.

“Looking good,” he said.

He inspected the rest of the aircraft then we crawled in, surprisingly fitting snugly inside. DH was relaxed and happy, busy following the procedures on his checklist. My heart gave an exaggerated beat as the propellers started turning. The plane shuddered, and, all of a sudden, the engine spluttered and roared to life. We taxied to the runway, and through the headset, I heard my youngest son chatting away.

DH asked him to be quiet for a bit, then I heard his calm voice talking to air traffic control. “Cleared for takeoff.”

Bounding down the runway, we picked up speed, bumping along, the plane straining to escape the earth. Until suddenly it was smooth. We were tilting upwards, the nose forging through the air. The ground dropped away, and we cleared the trees. The leafy tips looked as though they were in touching distance. Then, within seconds, they were below the plane.

The plane banked to the right, and I looked back down at the airport. The buildings and planes on the ground could now be toys, the cars tiny diecast models. The turquoise swimming pools in the grassy backyards were all different shapes, a rectangle, a circle, a kidney. We were up! Now I just had to loosen my vice-like grip on the seat.

As we levelled out, I craned this way and that – my nerves giving way to exhilaration, my shoulders dropping, mouth curving upwards in a wild grin. Before us, a vast expanse of blue sky. Below, dense green forest and blue, mirror-like lakes. The whole landscape was bathed in a warm, golden glow.

Noticing I’d been struck speechless (mostly because Son2 had started jabbering over the headsets again, right in my inner ear), DH turned round to see if I was ok. He gave me a look that said, Isn’t this great? Isn’t life so much better up here? Ahead, the tree-covered Adirondack mountains came into view.

Final approach
Final approach

I couldn’t stop looking: at the lush woodland; at Lake George; at the real estate (so much land); the properties clearly visible from our bird’s eye view. I thought about my office in Dubai, stationary and sterile, and the smallness of the cockpit didn’t matter anymore. From above, anything felt possible.

The odd jolt shook the plane but other than that, we weren’t buffeted or tossed by the wind like I’d feared. If it wasn’t for the deafening growl of the engine and the vibrating metal, we could almost be gliding.

I unfurled my fingers from the seatbelt, only for my heart to leap into my mouth as DH handed the controls over to Son1. Christ, my ten-year-old was flying! And loving it! “Just small corrections,” said DH, nudging the stick gently to keep us heading straight. Out the front window, the propeller whirled round, like a baseball bat pounding the air.

We headed over glassy lakes and wilderness, eating up miles of greenery. And before too long, it was time to head back.

At some point, we started descending; the toy towns, dots on the roads and bushes became houses, cars and trees once more. The runway rushed up towards us, and we touched down.

It took a while for my ears to adjust to the silence and we climbed out carefully. “Did you enjoy that?” I asked Son1 as DH tied down the airplane.

“Yes,” he nodded, grinning broadly.

“Think you might want to be a pilot?”

Another enthusiastic nod.

Me thinks we’d better start saving …

2 thoughts on “A wing and a prayer

  1. As often as we fly, and as often as I repeat the safety statistics to myself, I still get anxious. In March, we took a tiny prop plane from the Belize Cayes to the mainland, and I was terrified, although once we got off the ground safely, I was able to enjoy the gorgeous view. I think I’d have been much more relaxed with MrL (who learned to fly on Cessnas back in the day) at the controls, though! Enjoy your time in the Adriondacks – I lived there for a while with MrL when he was stationed there in the Air Force. Just watch out for the blackflies!x

    • Hi Ms Caroline! I’m glad you were able to enjoy the view! Sometimes I have to remind myself just to focus on the view and not the fear. 🙂 I absolutely loved the Adirondacks – what a gorgeous part of the world. Truly breathtaking. I would so love to have a holiday home there. Maybe one day! Hope your summer is going well – I did bring some hot weather back for a little while! A little too hot for a snap – miss the ole AC in the UK! xx

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