I never thought that I would ever get to take a joyride, in a plane, over and around Davis during my four years here. Not only that, I never thought that I would be the one flying that plane. In the pilot’s seat. Two thousand feet in the air. Campus looks a lot smaller from up there.
Although I was given my lesson free of charge, anyone can take an introductory demo flight at the UC Davis University Airport for $55. The lesson includes a basic overview of air transportation and of the different mechanisms of the plane, and 30 to 45 minutes of actual flying over areas such as Winters and Vacaville.
I had expected, prior to the lesson, that I would walk around the plane a few times and the instructor, University Airport CEO Jonathan Bar-Or, would size me up in terms of intelligence and decide from there whether or not to let me near one of his precious $95,000 planes.
But right after we sat down in front of Bar-Or’s iPad with the map of the route we would be taking that day, he informed me that I’d be the one flying the plane the entire time.
While we were still on the ground, Bar-Or began by teaching me how to direct the plane up and down, and how to roll from side to side using the wheel. Next, he taught me how to steer the plane left and right using pedals on the floor.
Among the plethora of dials to pay attention to in the cockpit are the speed and elevation indicators, navigation panels and communication systems.
After only 30 minutes or so of basic instruction, I was seated behind the controls of a small four-seater plane, facing a long runway and preparing for takeoff. Bar-Or was sitting on my left, and my friend Tyler Bronstein, who kindly agreed to come along for moral support, sat in the back. Before I knew it I was giving the engine a full shot of gas, watching for the speedometer to reach 60 so I could lift the nose in the air … and then we were flying.
For most of the time we were airborne on that clear afternoon, I was silently in awe. Getting to Winters in what seemed like less than five minutes felt like being tossed through a timeloop. Beyond that, I was working hard the entire time to process the fact that I was actually behind the wheel of a plane.
Back in the day when I was learning how to drive, I could never understand how the driving school teachers could be so patient. Bar-Or was no different. He was remarkably calm the entire time, tolerated my cursing every time my stomach dropped and made sure to reduce any anxiety I had when he could.
To my surprise, once I had made it safely off the ground, I found that flying was actually relatively easy. Yes, it was true I wasn’t worrying about other traffic or really anything other than what was directly in front of me, but controlling the plane felt like playing a video game after about 10 minutes.
Bar-Or left a surprising amount of control to me, only maintaining control of the foot pedals which were embarrassingly too far away for me to reach. He let me experiment steering until I learned could keep the plane riding smoothly, and even though Tyler was sick for most of the ride I think he would agree that I got the hang of it by the end.
Bar-Or even commented that I was an aggressive flier, which was strange in the context of real life and not Star Wars, but it helped me transition from freaking out to having fun.
Flying that plane, even though it was just to the edge of Lake Berryessa and back, was easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my lifetime. I thought getting a car when I was in high school was awesome, but sitting in a private plane at that elevation with the nose pointed in whatever direction I wanted made it truly feel as if the world was my oyster.
Judging by the kind of daily activity at the airport, there are plenty that feel the same way. Only a few planes were still parked at the airport on the afternoon we were there. Anyone with a pilots’ license can rent a plane to fly for $85 an hour, including fuel and insurance, opening up endless possibilities for day trips and adventures.
Bar-Or told me how he would fly out to Half Moon Bay for picnic dates when he was in school and how he can routinely get to Los Angeles in only an hour and 45 minutes. Whatever the scenario, it seems that a pilots’ license, while being quite the hefty investment of roughly $6500 for 60 hours of instruction, is something that could definitely be put to good use.
While I am a long way from obtaining my pilots’ license, getting to experience flying on an ordinary day was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I got off work at the Memorial Union and biked out to the airport right afterwards, only to fly right back in that direction half an hour later to look at the same area from two thousand feet above.
It was unreal that this was possible, all in the space of an hour and a half, for a person with absolutely no prior knowledge or experience in flight. If anyone is aching to cross something off of their bucket list, head out to the UC Davis Airport when you have a free afternoon and fly somewhere. It’s worth it.
LANI CHAN can be reached at email@example.com.