Clarksville Online spent several days at Outlaw Field in late September, garnering a new respect and understanding of the role this small airfield and its’ businesses bring to the community. Over the next four days, we’ll give you an inside look at the business and the adventure that is Outlaw Field.
Growing up outside New England’s largest Air Force Base, I was always captivated by flying, both the small jets and the huge bombers that once a year would be on display for air base “open houses.” Years later, I found myself in the envious position of being paid to do things like hot air ballooning, soaring in a glider over the Vermont mountains, racing along the ridges of a mountain in small Cessna with a pilot whose feet barely reached the pedals. Exhilarating. Intoxicating. Adventure.
When the opportunity to try my hand at piloting a Cessna arrived, I reached out and grabbed it. No second thoughts. I stepped onto the tarmac aiming for the passenger door.
“No, you take the left side…” my flight instructor said. Without a bit of hesitation, I headed around the place and took the “driver’s seat.”
That’s how it began, with the friendly smile of pilot and certified flight instructor William Kowalski of Volunteer Aviation, who made it all seem easy. Too easy. I told him that I might have trouble with the left pedal due to an injury that sometimes kept my leg from exerting the needed pressure, and it was glaringly obvious that I walk with a limp. But with his tandem controls, that would not be a problem. Reassurance that I would not crash. A momentary thought.
Kowalsky ‘walked” me through a pre-flight check list, telling me about the instrumentation, explaining the function and pointing the most important of the myriad gauges on that overwhelming “dashboard.” The control panel in the cockpit of a Cessna is impressively large, and high, vision-blocking high. In my mind, I was redesigning that panel to allow a person to actually see the runway without craning their necks to one side or another. I was tall; I can’t imaging how shorter, smaller people do it.
The first wildcard was the use of one’s feet to steer down the runway. Stop, go, right, left all controlled with my feet. On well-functioning leg and one slightly gimpy one. It will be interesting, I told myself, without ever reconsidering this plan. I realized I was way too comfortable with not knowing what I was doing, considering I would be doing it at 5,000 feet above Clarksville.
That little Cessna some folks might have seen wobbling like a Weeble down the runway was me. It gets smoother every time, I was told. Unfortunately this was the first time. The foot pedals were a challenge; I’d never ever mastered handbrakes on a three-speed bike, and that was at least anchored to the ground. But the plane moved ever straighter, and picked up speed and was in the air almost before I could blink.
Exhilaration! feeling the twinge of an adrenalin rush. I slowly fumbled with the controls, accelerating a bit faster, a slow turn to the right, the left, don’t fly over Fort Campbell air space, follow the curve of the Cumberland, drop a little lower over City Hall, my house, my grandchildren’s home, avoid the jumpers leaping out of the other airborne plane, avoid the other plane, check the controls, look out and down at the cotton ball clouds, feel the rush of cool air thorough the partially opened window. The Clarksville landscape unfolded, green tobacco fields here, pale golden cornstalks there, the lacing of rivers connecting the colors of this landscape patchwork quilt.
As I zigzagged across the sky over Clarksville, I realized the absence of any fear or anxiety was palpable. I felt as if I was meant to this, and should have tried it much earlier in life. Not that I felt completely confident in knowing every detail — I didn’t — but supremely confident that it could be learned with relative ease, in part with steady practice, and in part by the necessary technical/classroom study required.
I’ve always been a hands on learner: reading a principle may or may not stick, putting it into practice is a constant “gotcha!”
As we circled the field, having waiting for a large group of skydivers to bail out, drift and land, we slowly set up our landing. I could feel the reduction in speed, sense the earth moving closer, finally looking ahead at the runway. I sensed the landing, pushing on the brakes and cutting back airspeed as we rolled to a crawl, stopping back at the terminal, where the next student, 13-year-old Brooks Louie, was eagerly waiting for his second flight lesson.
I’d had a different view of the world, different than flight in a commercial jet, different than the lazy drift of a balloon flight, different than riding the wind currents in a glider … just different. I can be comfortable in most situations, but the sheer comfort I felt in the pilot’s seat was somehow different. Better. Stronger. In the quiet of the sky, I had the same feeling of sacredness, of being at peace with something so much bigger than the ordinary earthbound human that I am.
October 13: Part 3: — Flight School at Outlaw Field
October 14: Part 4 — Leaping into the wild Blue