Public has the chance to earn their wings at Frederick’s Learn to Fly Day -- Gazette.Net


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Flying: A first-hand account

While flying a plane is not part of my job description, it has been on my ”to do” list for quite some time.
Ever since my mom flew a two-seat plane in Bulgaria, my bungee enthusiast brother went paraplaning, and my husband started supervising aerial tree cuttings from a helicopter at work, I have been eager to give flying a try.
So when my editor offered me a chance to take an introductory flying lesson and write about it as part of our coverage of the International Learn to Fly Day at the Frederick Municipal Airport, I accepted without hesitation.
Only after my excitement subsided, I thought about the one thing that could ruin all my fun — my occasional motion sickness.
My mother had warned me. She felt sick for a few hours after her flight because her pilot insisted on her trying a loop — a plane maneuver in which an aircraft completes a full 360 degree flip.
My mother never gets sick. I do. I tolerate cars and large planes, but small boats seem to be a particular weakness. The last time it happened, my mother and I were on a tour boat in Greece. The weather was bad, the waves were huge, and half of the passengers, myself included, felt deathly sick. The other half, my mother told me later, looked scared for their lives. I didn’t see anything having spent most of the time with my face in a brown paper bag.
With images of that incident repeating again — this time in a tiny cabin hundreds of feet above ground — I considered backing out. But then devised a plan. I’d take a motion sickness pill, skip breakfast and take the plunge.
Friday evening, I raided my medicine cabinet. I find the motion sickness pills I brought from Bulgaria and read the instructions. I am supposed to take one 30 minutes before a meal. I should be fine, I think before going to bed.
7:55 a.m.: I get up, pop a pill and get a cup of coffee. An email from Brittney Miculka, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association representative who is organizing my flight, tells me the early morning fog can reduce our visibility. It is not dangerous, she explains, but we might have to delay the flight by about 30 minutes so I can get a better view from above.
We plan for takeoff around 9:45 a.m. I call our photographer to let him know of the new schedule.
9:15 a.m.: Miculka greets me with an enthusiastic smile at the AOPA headquars at Frederick Municipal Airport. While we wait for takeoff, she tells me all about AOPA’s Learn to Fly Day, a 3-year-old initiative, triggered by a growing need to raise a new generation of pilots. With so many careers and extreme sports available to youngsters today, not many of them are looking at flying as a potential career choice, she tells me.
“We are fighting an uphill battle,” she said.
A manager and youth outreach coordinator with the aviation association, Miculka also is a pilot. When she talks about flying, her face lights up. She took her job in Frederick County because it gives her a chance to fly every day.
Miculka’s enthusiasm is contagious. I forget about all my worries and prepare to see my plane.
9:30 a.m.: I meet my pilot. Mark Evans of Middletown is a veteran pilot, with hundreds of flights under his belt and a face tanned by the sun at high-altitude.. He has been flying since 1977 when he was 17.
As he sips his coffee, Evans walks me out to our plane, the Canadian-built DA40, known as the “Diamond.” It looks light and gracious — more than 26-feet-long with a wingspan of more than 39 feet. I later learn that it is a popluar choice for flight schools because of its fuel efficiency.
“It has four seats, just like a car,” Evans tells me as we get close.
Off-handedly, I mention taking a motion sickness pill this morning. Evans looks slightly concerned.
“We may have a bit of a bumpy ride,” he told me. “But don’t worry, we’ll figure it out,” he adds.
9:55 a.m.: We get ready for takeoff and Evans helps me get inside the cockpit. There are no steps, just a small pedal on the side of the wing. I hop on, clutching my notebook and peek inside. At first, it seems like there are screens and buttons everywhere. There is a control stick between my legs and many levers on my right side.
But Evans sounds reassuring as he gives me the basics. He shows me how to use the control stick to make a left and right turn and take the plane up and down. There is no steering wheel just a pair of pedals, which will allow me to direct the plane on the ground. A lever would help me accelerate, Evans tells me before jumping into the seat next to me.
10:10 a.m.: We strap on our belts, put on our headphones and start listening for instructions from the control tower. Evans shows me how to start the engine. It goes off with a roar and the blade in the front starts spinning. Soon, we are moving along the tarmac and before I can decide if I am worried or excited, I hear Evans telling me to try steering.
I use my pedals and feel the plane responding. This is exciting!
10:08 a.m.: We get to the end of the tarmac and stop to wait for tower clearance. I am holding the control stick as we start speeding forward. I feel Evans pull back his control stick and we gently separate from the ground. It is a takeoff far smoother than that of any passenger plane I have flown in. Amazed, I look down and watch as we gracefully gain altitude. Below us the airport is getting smaller. Above is just blue sky.
10:10 a.m.: I am feeling great! There is no turbulence, no shaking. We are sliding through the air and I can see all of Frederick’s downtown far below. We fly above a quarry filled with aquamarine-blue water. Then we see the Monocacy River, which looks like a tiny creek from our vantage point. Evans shows me Middletown, now to our right. I catch myself beaming, probably not unlike the numerous children he took out flying at the Learn to Fly Day last year.
10:20 a.m.: Evans wants me to make a turn. I grab the control stick and hesitantly push to the right. The plane starts making a slow curve. I look up at Evans, thinking he would take back control, but it’s all up to me. I try to keep course as we head out to Harper’s Ferry.
“You are doing great. Enjoy it,” Evans said. “I am not worried.”
As we get closer to Harper’s Ferry, I am captivated by the view. You can see the mountains and the river between them. Everything else below us a green-patch quilt, speckled with the occasional house or a road.
10:30 a.m.: It is time to head back. With help from Evans I take a turn. We switch the autopilot on and I can focus on the view.
10:35 a.m.: We gently start to descend. I can feel as Evans guides the nose of the plane down toward the airport. I am braced for a rough landing, but I am surprised again. The plane glides back on the tarmac and I wish we didn’t have to go down.
10:45 a.m.: We are back where we started. I unbuckle my seat belt and get out of the cockpit, but my head is still in the sky, filled with gorgeous scenery images. Now I understand why Evans and Miculka love flying so much. I thank Evans for the experience and tell him I envy him for his job.
He smiles and nods. “It beats working for a living,” he tells me.
I heartily agree.
mraycheva@gazette.net

You won’t have to be a professional pilot to fly an airplane at the Frederick Municipal Airport on Saturday.

If You Go

What: Learn to Fly Day Where: Frederick Municipal Airport, 310 Aviation Way, Frederick, 21701When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. SaturdayDetails: The event is free. Flights will be available on first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit www.aopa.org/fredericklearntoflyday.

As part of a free promotional event this weekend, any Frederick County resident 8 and older will have a chance to take the pilot’s seat, grab the control column, and learn how to take a real airplane into the skies.

Learn to Fly Day — which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Frederick Municipal Airport — seeks to promote interest in aviation among the general public.

The event is free and will allow visitors to experience the thrill of piloting a plane by taking a free flight over the county.

Visitors also will meet with pilots, learn about careers in aviation, get a certificate for a discounted flight lesson, and look inside various aircraft, including airplanes, helicopters and gliders.

“We just want people to come out to the airport and have a good time,” said Brittney Miculka, a pilot and youth outreach coordinator with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which organizes the event in partnership with the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The International Learn to Fly Day is an worldwide effort in helping people of all ages take the first step to discover the fun, freedom and accomplishment of flight. One of the main goals of the event is to get more members of the general public, especially youngsters, to think about entering the field of aviation, Miculka said.

“We want youth to be inspired about flying,” Miculka said. “Our goal is to build up the pilot population.”

With the range of careers available for them, young people are much less likely to think about becoming pilots today than they were in the 1970s, Miculka said. With the pilot population continuing to dwindle, it is important to get more people — of all ages — to rediscover flight, she said.

International Learn to Fly Day is a major part of those efforts.

While aviators nationwide staged their local events on May 19, the date for Frederick County was changed because of the G-8 Summit at Camp David near Thurmont.

The rain date for the event is Sunday.

According to Miculka, this will be third year in which the event is staged at the Frederick Municipal Airport.

Last year, about 500 people participated in the event — 150 of whom were able to take off on a free 30-minute flight, Miculka said.

Organizers are hoping for the same turnout this year and are inviting anyone to come in — if not to fly, then at least to learn about the Frederick Municipal Airport.

Introductory flights will be available to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Children 8 and older are welcome to participate, but will require parent consent.

Mark Evans, a corporate pilot and a flight instructor, who participated in the event last year, said he loved seeing the faces of children light up as he took them up in his plane.

“The majority of our ridership was young kids,” said Evans, who hopes that his flight may have inspired some youngsters to become a part of the next generation of pilots.

Evans earned his pilot’s license in 1977 at 17, and he has been hooked on flying ever since.

“I learned to fly an airplane before I learned to drive a car,” he said. “And I can’t think of another career that is more enjoyable.”

mraycheva@gazette.net