I have the plane

Believe it or not, commercial airliners have actually crashed because both guys up front thought the other guy was flying the plane. Because of this, during flight training the modern drill is for the pilot handing off the controls to say, “You have the plane,” to which the other pilot responds, “I have the plane.” It’s a good idea, and one I use for unofficial training.

What’s unofficial training, you ask?

Well, I’m not a Certified Flight Instructor, so I can’t give logable flight instruction. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea (or an illegal one) to teach some basics to those who fly with me often. Like how to keep the plane in the air, and how to use the radio, in case I drop dead in flight.

This is even more important in the Plane Tales Plane, because Tessie is a plane that has to be “hand flown” at all times. You may or may not know this, but many modern aircraft can be “trimmed” to fly straight and level with no input from the pilot. It’s not an auto pilot, but a way of micro-tuning the flight controls to hold steady, given steady conditions. Tess, however, cannot be so fine-tuned. If you let go of her for one second she turns right then nosedives like the Corsairs in the opening title sequence of Ba-Ba Black Sheep with Robert Conrad.

Maybe she was a fighter plane in a previous life.

Anyway, anytime I need to do anything, I need my passenger/co-pilot to keep her in the air. Which is how Lisa got her first flight lesson. On a recent SciFlight, Lisa and I had rigged the doors for aerial photography. This usually means one door stored down in the belly and one slid all the way up over the top. This gives us a roof over our heads, and open windows on each side. As the morning was cool, I started off wearing my latte-brown flight jacket from Burlington Coat Factory.

But the day was getting hot and I wanted to take it off. I knew we’d be down strafing the cattle in the fields below if I took my hands off of hot-headed Tessie long enough to get my coat off.

As casually as I could I told Lisa to take the yoke, as I needed to take off my coat before I cooked.

Lisa panicked. “What?” she squeaked. “Your have got to be kidding? I don’t know how to do this! What do I do??”

I told her she’d be fine and to just take ahold of the yoke. She grabbed it in a two-handed white-knuckle death grip. Good, I said, That’s it. You’re doing great. OK, a little bit back, nice and gentle. OK, just a hair to the left. OK, you’re doing fine. You have the plane.

Then I proceeded to undo my shoulder belt, take off my headset–Holy Cow, it’s loud without the headset!–and pull the jacket up over my head. Naturally it caught in the slip stream and nearly pulled out the window. Finally, I got it off and stashed in the back, got my belt back on, got the headset back over my ears, and re-adjusted my mike.

We were in a very slight climbing turn to the left, but Lisa was doing fine. We weren’t strafing cattle or going into a Kamikaze dive. I sat back to enjoy the view. Lisa was frozen like a statue.


“Ummm….” Slight quiver to her voice. “I think I’m done now. You can have the plane back… Please?”

I slipped my left hand forward onto the pilot’s side yoke. I have the plane.

“You have the plane. You have the plane” she said, “Boy oh boy, do you ever have the plane!!”


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