Unexpected Help

April 7, 2020

Today I was telling a story of my experience getting a pilot certificate. I decided to record it here in hopes that I can encourage someone who is struggling with the same thing to keep on keeping on when things seem hopeless, and to look for answers even in unlikely places.

There are many requirements to earning a pilot certificate. One of those is to demonstrate steep turns while maintaining altitude plus or minus 100 feet. I had managed to demonstrate all of the other maneuvers within tolerance, but no matter what my instructor said or did, I just couldn’t seem to get steep turns down. My check ride was coming up soon, which added to the pressure. Apparently this is a common obstacle for flight students. My steep turns always started out fine, but my vertical oscillations soon got out of hand and I would consistently exceed the altitude tolerance. I was over-correcting.  My instructor was very patient but had run out of things to try. My problem was no fault of his.

During this time, I was making extra cash by working security at an outdoor concert venue in Memphis TN called ‘Live at the Garden’, which is held at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. There are usually five concerts per year and draw crowds of 5000 or so. Acts such as Chicago, Lionel Ritchie, and The Doobie Brothers draw an eclectic cross-section of concert-goers. People bring their lawn chairs and coolers and bug spray and make a memorable event with friends. When the concerts are over, people tend to linger and hang out. For those doing security, it’s time to prod them out the gate. One such group had been asked to leave several times but they were having a good time and were in no hurry. They weren’t really hurting anything…they just were not ready for their fun to be over. As I explained that it was time to pack up and make their way out, one lady pointed at her friend who was their designated driver and said “Do you know who you’re talking to?? This is a FedEx pilot right here!”  At that point, I didn’t care how long they stayed. I knelt down beside the friendly pilot and shared my frustrations about being unable to master steep turns. After just a few questions, she was able to determine the problem. I was over-correcting.  She suggested that I only pull on the yoke when going low and avoid pushing on it when going high, and that the plane would correct itself and lose altitude on it’s own when above initial altitude. It was just what I needed to hear and it solved my problem.

I never got that lady’s name, but I would love to meet her again and thank her for the help. Sometimes the answers we need are in unlikely places. Never give up.