I turned off the country road near Walkerton, Indiana onto the long gravel driveway of the Stuntz and Hochstetler Christmas Tree Farm, home of Hop's Powered Parachutes. It was November 1999, and I was going to learn how to fly a powered parachute (PPC).
My husband started flying PPCs in 1996. I wasn't happy about it, but he enjoyed it so much that it was hard for me to protest. Over time, I got comfortable with it. We became regulars at Hop's and people asked me when I was going to fly. I wasn't brave enough to do it, but over the years I became envious of anyone who could just climb in and take off. I decided to try it - just once - to prove to myself that I could do it.
I signed up for ground school. That afternoon, the wind was blowing about 15 mph. Hop was hopeful that it would die down enough for us to fly. We watched some instructional videos, then he explained how the craft operated, what to expect when we flew and how to do the preflight check. Throughout the talk he emphasized the safety factor. "The only people who have died from flying powered parachutes," he explained, "are those who did something stupid but knew better."
After we signed the waivers and took a written test, we went to the airstrip. Each of us was to fly alone in the student trainer, with Hop remaining on the ground and giving us directions via radio. We took turns sitting in the unit. That was when I realized what I was getting into. Up to that point it was all academic, but when I was buckled in, the reality of it hit me. I silently started to panic. The wind continued blowing about 12 mph - too strong for first time flyers. Our solo flights would have to wait for another day. I was relieved.
Winter set in, and the flying tapered off due to the weather and the Christmas season. However, when the following spring arrived, I didn't actively pursue my solo flight. I was just too scared. I was afraid that I'd panic and wreck the plane. Thankfully, Hop and Maryln never pressured me.
I considered giving up on the whole idea when they told me about a new training course in which the instructor flies with the student in a two-seater unit. I'd eventually solo, but only when the instructor and I agree that I'm ready. Now, this sounded like something I could do. I knew that with repeated exposure, I would conquer my fear. By now my pride was involved. If I didn't do this, I was going to feel like a failure.
On my first flight, the instructor (Rollie) controlled the foot petals and I handled the throttle. At first I was scared, but after we took off I calmed down and he said I did fine. We flew for about 30 minutes. Success! I was pumped and ready to fly again. However, as it sometimes does, life got in the way. My husband lost his job. He found a new one right away, but it meant moving to Detroit. We left Indiana in October 2000.
In July 2001, we came back to South Bend for a long weekend, and Bill scheduled himself to fly. I was scheduled to fly with Hoppy. A year had passed since I'd last flown. My fear was back in full force, but I took a deep breath and climbed in. To my surprise, I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. It was a great flight.
While our return trips to Indiana will continue to be infrequent, I've made a commitment that I hope will push me into finally flying solo. Hop is producing a new training video, and I agreed to be the student pilot. We're going back soon to do the shooting, and I want to be the person they film taking off at the end of the lesson.
To be continued...