It had been twenty-four years since I had flown in a Piper Warrior. The first time was my second airplane ride. I don’t remember much about the first ride in the Warrior, other than the low wing and the throttle lever. I do recall enjoying that first ride very much. The newness of flying was still in effect, and I’d fly with anything and anybody. Over two decades of flying and learning that not all pilots are created equal, and not all aircraft are maintained equally, I have become a more discerning aviator.
Last year, my good friend Jerry sold his Pitts S-1 iconic aerobatic aircraft and bought a friend’s Piper Warrior. I was very excited about that for three reasons. Number 1, I rarely fly anymore due to the cost and I am hesitant to ask people for a ride due to the price of AvGas. Number 2, I had never flown with Jerry as, having a one-seater, room for two people in the Pitts would have been very tight. And Number 3, I was excited to fly the Piper Warrior again, this time with a lot more experience. My previous experience in Pipers had been a few hours in a Cherokee back in the late 1990s. And once in an Archer in 2009 to Myrtle Beach and back to Lancaster, SC.
My daughter, Hannah, had turned 5 years old earlier in the week and Jerry said he wanted to give her a special birthday present. So we tentatively scheduled for Saturday morning, waited to make sure the weather was conducive to VFR and Jerry flew down from Bradford Aerodrome in Huntersville, NC. He skirted around the Class B airspace and arrived at Rock Hill around 1030 local time. After Jerry took a little walk to stretch his legs and have a conversation with the FBO/Unicom operations attendant, we climbed in the Warrior, after a little time for me to figure out how best to get into the airplane. Having Cerebral Palsy forces me to think about how best to get into the aircraft whereas “normal” folks just hop right in. It felt good to be in the cockpit again and also with a good friend. I had wanted to fly with Jerry for many years, now we finally had the opportunity.
Hannah had been buckled in and put her headset on. As soon as the engine was running and the intercom was active, Hannah was talking, asking questions, etc. I had to nicely tell her to be quieter until “Uncle Jerry” finished getting the airplane ready to take off. She complied sweetly.
The takeoff was uneventful except for some turbulence from a Citabria that had taken off about a half mile in front of us. We exited the traffic pattern and entered Lancaster, SC, as the next waypoint. Jerry let me take the controls just southwest off the end of Lancaster’s runway, over the lake. We decided to fly over my parents’ house just outside of Heath Springs. I used dead reckoning to find my parents house and we made some 45° orbits around their house. In retrospect, I should have realized these were probably a little too much for Hannah, only being her second time in an airplane. We made three orbits and Hannah mentioned she felt sick. We rolled wings level and I started to look for a bag in case Hannah had to release the contents of her stomach.
Jerry produced a large zip lock bag and I passed it to Hannah who was looking down and very discontent. I hoped she wouldn’t throw up all over the back of Jerry’s nice airplane. Hannah then said she wanted to go home. I agreed with her, it was time to go back to Rock Hill. At some point Hannah’s borrowed David Clark headset slid off the back of her head, with the earcups still around her ears. She complained it was very loud. I told her to just pull the headset back onto her head from the back. She said she couldn’t.
I looked back and realized the pigtails she was wearing kept her from easily righting the headset on top of her head. I couldn’t reach around well enough to help her. So I decided we would have to leave things as they were and get back to Rock Hill as quickly as the Warrior would let us. I asked Hannah if she wanted to sing Jesus Loves Me and she said, “No”. About a minute later I heard her start counting. I was proud of her for figuring out a way to distract herself from feeling sick and suddenly feeling insecure in an airplane. I’ve been there myself a time or two.
So to help her, Jerry and I counted along with her. When we got to about thirty in the count, Jerry entered the traffic pattern for Runway 2, on a left downwind. At this point, Hannah stopped counting and watched as the runway came into view. She commented she was glad we were landing. Jerry put the Warrior down very gently and we turned off at the second taxiway. I opened the door once we were off the runway and let the humid air reach into the cockpit.
Once Jerry shut down the Warrior and we deplaned I asked Hannah if she enjoyed it. She said, “Yes, but I didn’t like feeling sick.” I asked her if she would go flying again and she replied, “Yes, but next time without pigtails.” I’m glad she was able to fly, as she enjoys seeing things from up above. And I’m glad she found a way to cope with a situation that was suddenly frightening to her. She could have panicked, screamed, cried, but she overcame and found a way to cope until her little mind could feel comfortable again. And I was impressed that she realized that had she not had pigtails in her hair, her headset would have been easier to put back in its proper position. Will she become a pilot one day? Only time will tell, but at least she wants to fly again sometime and didn’t let a temporarily scary and uncomfortable situation deter her from the desire to slip the surly bonds of earth again sometime.