"Hands on your thighs, heels on the floor." These were the directions from Mike Wolford, seated in the cockpit of the single-engine piston Piper Cherokee. He was talking to my boyfriend, Stephen, who until we boarded the plane moments before hadn't been on one in decades and who would be the co-pilot for our morning excursion into the Adirondack skies.
It was as calm and clear a morning as you could hope for. It was the perfect morning for flying. Mike walked into the pilot's lounge of the Adirondack Regional Airport FBO to check in with us.
How were we feeling? I'd started the morning nervous and excited; although it hadn't been quite as long for me as it had for Stephen, I've gotten very comfortable with my feet firmly planted on the Earth. Mike assured us we couldn't have asked for a better morning, with minimal turbulence and clear skies. Does anyone want a lesson? My eyes widened and I looked toward Stephen. When I'd asked him to join me for the flight he had unseriously asked if he could put all those hours playing flight simulator to use and fly the plane.
Fellow adventurers, I will pause here to answer the question you are no doubt asking. When life lands a golden egg in your lap you take it and run. Yes. My boyfriend flew the plane.
Adirondack Aviation Academy offers three scenic flights. A 25-minute flight over Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, a 50-minute flight that goes over the Adirondack High Peaks, and an 80-minute flight over Lake Champlain and all the flights include an introductory flying lesson for those interested. Owner and instructor Mike Wolford, who has 40 years of experience flying corporate jets, sees each scenic flight as an opportunity for everyone to reach for the clouds.
As we walked out to the tarmac you could feel how passionate Mike is about flight instruction, musing how more people would do it if the barriers to entry were lower. Flight schools and instructors can charge more than $200 an hour, discouraging people from trying. He'd like to see that change. Michelle Smith, who manages the operations of the academy would especially like to see that change among women who make up only 5% of commercial pilots in the US and only 9% of pilots total (of which she is a member).
The plane is a Piper PA-28 Cherokee, its low wing placement, wide landing gear, and low center of gravity put it on almost any best-of list for training planes. I was perched in the back with excellent views of the mountains outside and the lesson in front. Stephen took his place in the captain's seat and Mike hopped in and closed the door above the right wing. School is in session.
It started with an explanation of the plane's instruments and radar display. Then the ins and outs of steering a plane on the tarmac. "Hands on your thighs, heels on the floor." On the tarmac, all the steering and braking is done with the pedals so keep your hands on your thighs and away from the yoke (what a driver would recognize as a steering wheel) and heels on the floor and away from the braking mechanism. We were ready to fly after steering the plane for a few turns outside the FBO hanger and maintaining a straight line. With Mike's guidance, Stephen brought us over to the runway.
The lesson continued once we were in the air with Stephen learning how to increase the elevation, bank the plane (turn it using the yolk) and navigate. We followed (or should I say Stephen followed) the Saranac River from Bloomingdale, over Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. I don't know if I was more captivated by the view outside (how often do you get to see the mountains like this!) or inside watching my partner fly us over Lake Placid. It was a truly remarkable experience.
As Mike was landing (Stephen never completed that part of Flight Simulator and was more than ready to let Mike take care of the hard part) I was already planning our next flight. This summer? This fall? Maybe this time I'd take the controls. If there is one thing I've learned after writing this blog for the last six years, never let nerves get in the way of your next great adventure.
Adirondack Aviation Academy is a premier flight school offering flight instruction, pilot certifications, and scenic flights. Located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, Adirondack Aviation Academy provides a truly unique experience for all ages and abilities.