Fear of Flying

“She’s touching me.”

“She’s on my side of the seat.”

“Quit fighting.” Our mother vehemently said and glared at my sister and me.

There were a few minutes of silence as we watched our parents fly the airplane and talk about how bad the weather was. We could tell they were tense but it didn’t seem that scary to us and we continued to fight.

“Knock it off you two.” Our mother spoke loudly this time.

“She’s looking at me.” My sister answered.

“Don’t look back.” Our mother replied.

Then the most incredible thing happened. She actually reached back and slapped each of us on the legs. We couldn’t believe it. We looked at each and started laughing. It didn’t hurt at all. She hadn’t ever hit us before this. Her first attempt at corporal punishment had failed miserably.

“You girls need to stop fighting. We are going to have to land the plane because the weather is too bad to keep flying. Please quit. Dave and I are trying to find a place to land.”

We quit fighting. Not because she hit us but because she seemed so genuinely scared.  Our stepfather landed the plane shortly after that at a small airport a few hours away from our home.  This was the last part of our family vacation to Yellowstone Park that hadn’t gone as well as I expect my parents intended it to.

First off I got air sick about an hour into the flight. It was a beautiful day but there were lots of air pockets and it was like being on one of the rides at the fair that always made me sick to my stomach. The small four passengers Cessna 182 bounced up and down almost immediately after we took off. When I got sick into the small bag I had been given it caused my younger sister to get sick as well. We had two more hours to go before we got to the airport at Yellowstone.

Having a plane sounds cool when you tell people that you get to ride in it to go to cool places for trips and vacations but the reality wasn’t all that cool. For an airplane ride to breakfast at a town a couple hours away we had to drive to the airport in the car and then wait while our parents got the plane out of the hangar and get it ready for us kids to get in. About a half an hour to an hour later we took off. That part was cool. Our stepfather would hold the plane on the ground until the very last minute and then take off really fast. I always liked the way all of the houses got really small when we took off. He would frequently fly low in our neighborhood so we could look at how our house which looked like a toy down below us.

Then came the part I didn’t like.  By the time we got to the place we were going to have breakfast at I was usually sick to my stomach as it usually took about 20 to 30 minutes and by the time we landed and walked in to the restaurant at the airport we flew in to I had no desire to eat even though I was hungry. Between the amounts of time it took to get to the airport, then to get the plane out of the hangar and ready to fly and then to fly to the destination and back it took the same amount of time as if we had just driven there. I guess it is obvious what my preference was.

We weren’t rich but my stepfather was self-employed and had caught the flying bug from my mother. She was the first female pilot in the state of Oregon.  She did acrobatics in an open cockpit plane with my father. My father was an airplane engineer who died in a plane crash in a plane he had repaired to factory specifications. Unfortunately they were faulty and when he tried to take off the flaps on the plane went the wrong way and flipped him upside down and crushed him immediately. My mother was watching and she was six months pregnant with my little sister and I was three months short of being born. The schematics from the manufacturer were backwards and they paid my mother $15,000 for the loss of her husband. This was the maximum amount that could be sued for the state we lived in. Melvin Belli was willing to take the case but my mother would have had to move to California and she wasn’t willing to do that. My father’s death is one of the early reasons that airplanes became required to test the flaps and ailerons before they took off from the runway. Disaster is the mother of safety laws.

My stepfather bought the plane he had with two partners, Chad Long, who was a policeman, and Bob Haxby, who had been his flying instructor. I don’t like flying and it has nothing to do with my father dying in an airplane. I get sick to my stomach and I also don’t like the fact that I have no control over what will happen if something goes wrong. I am a good driver and I enjoy driving to places in cars. I feel like I have some degree of control over what happens when I drive. Though I do wholeheartedly believe that driving down the road in a car is when a person exhibits extreme faith. It takes an amazing amount of faith to drive down the road and believe that the other people driving will stay in their lane, because frequently they don’t. It is almost more unlikely to believe that people will stay in their own lane than to believe in God. As far as flying goes I do fly if I have to, like when I went to Spain many years ago. It is the only way to get there.

So, this two hundred thousand dollar airplane, with two partners that they made payments on was not cheap but not as expensive as it sounded like, was my stepfather’s toy. The biggest issue was that he felt guilty for having such an expensive toy, even though he was technically the one who was working and making the payments. He wanted the family to participate in the airplane so he could justify it. So that meant he tried to get us to fly as many places as he could. To any vacation spot, to the twenty acres in Central Oregon that my grandfather bought for us to vacation on which happened to have a small runway a mile away besides the out to breakfast trips.

Then there was the year we flew to Yellowstone and it was by far the most memorable trip we ever took in the airplane. Besides the part where I got sick on the flight there were other issues. Like the rooms we got at the motel, it had horribly uncomfortable beds to sleep on. Our parents traded beds with my sister and I because the bed was sloped to the middle and I ended up choosing to sleep on the floor because of how bad it was. My sister would lay on the side by the wall and push me out of the bed, she was asleep so we had to assume it was subconscious. The air conditioning in the rental car quit working halfway into the first day so we had to drive through the first half of the park without it working in 100 degree weather because it would have taken too long to return it and still see the entire park in the three days we had to do it in. We did get a different car for the other two days.

I do have memories of this trip that were good. It was a beautiful place but the things that were bad still live in my memory forty years later. And I still don’t like to fly.

 

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