It took me months to prove I could land an airplane. Of all the things to “catch onto” why did landing have to be hardest? Most likely because I’m an over thinker and an over complicater. I couldn’t get it out of my head that landing an airplane was a more pleasant way of saying a “controlled crash onto a runway.” There are no brakes, it’s just “fly as smooth as you can into the ground, and don’t slow down enough to stall.” I would liken my experience of landing an airplane to the way I bowl. It’s either strikes or gutter balls. Some people aren’t capable of a middle ground. Landing isn’t something you don’t want to be hit or miss at. My flight instructor Drew, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law (let’s call him Drude from now on), was fully confident that I could fly somewhere by myself, land, and come back alive.
After so much planning and rehashing, the day came. I took off like a baby bird from the 21st busiest airport in the United States headed for Wendover. The air was as smooth as Johnny Depp on the red carpet. I couldn’t have dreamed up better conditions. The course from Salt Lake to Wendover is like flying over a dot to dot picture, with the line already drawn. If you can see the road I-80 below you, you are not lost. The points along the way are simple. My favorite being the monolithic cement tree.
The city of Wendover began to grow bigger and bigger in my windshield. The closer I got, the more anxiety and panic started to set in. I was sweating chunks. My heart was pounding louder than the beat of a Foo Fighters concert. I forgot everything I knew about controlled crashing landing. Without realizing it, I found myself involuntarily entering the traffic pattern around the runway. “Is this real life?” I was parallel to the runway in the downwind thinking “I didn’t even call my mom to let her know I was going to die today.” Then I was making my left hand turn from downwind to base, descending, thinking, “I haven’t lived my life. I don’t even know what Faygo tastes like.” Then my next left hand turn to final approach was made. The ground started moving up and up towards the wheels of my plane. BAM! “Oh crap. Did I just prop strike?!” As I taxied to the tarmac I was horrified. If I prop struck, I was stuck in Wendover. The entire engine would have to be rebuilt. What if no one came to Wendover to pick me up? Would I live a lonely life of Casino tending? My life immediately took a turn for the worse in my head as I saw myself become a hotel maid for the Rainbow marrying a mediocre card shuffler. Finally I pulled up on the tarmac, the line-workers starting at me in confusion. I turned off the plane, and when the propeller stopped moving, I saw that it was, in fact, still intact. No prop strike! A flood of happiness and relief met all the stress and anxiety I had been feeling the past hour, and my body knew no other way to process the mix of emotions other than vomiting. So I opened the door to my Cessna 172 and ralphed a small ocean on the ground. The Wendover line-guys staring at me with an increased amount of confusion. I wasn’t in the chattiest moods, so I closed my door, buttoned it up, started the plane, and rolled away. I’m sure they still talk about “the girl who bombed a landing and barfed on their asphalt, then left without paying a ramp fee.” I can only hope that I have become a Wendover Legend.
I made it home in one piece that day, with a better understanding of the difference between a prop strike and a hard landing. The first thing I did was call my mother and tell her I loved her. The second thing I did was go to CVS and buy a Faygo.