A Thrilling Bird’s Eye View

26 Nov

Last Wednesday, I did one of my most fun and exciting learning adventures during this 30 Day project – I took a flight lesson!

Just before my flight lesson

Thanks to Matt Quillen at Streamline Aviation, I had one-on-one introductory instruction in airplane piloting. I have always wanted to do this, and was thrilled when Matt offered to give me a lesson. I’ve been up in small aircraft a couple of times (once to jump out, when I went skydiving for my 30th birthday), and in helicopters a few times. But I’ve never received a lesson or in any way worked the controls of any aircraft. Matt changed all that.

I arrived at Streamline, located in a hangar at the back private airfield of Austin Bergstrom Airport, at 9 am on an absolutely beautiful, clear, sunny morning. Matt, who started Streamline with his brother Corey, introduced himself and started with an overview of the airplane we would be flying. The late-model Diamond DA40 is sleek and high-tech; it’s about the size of a Cessna, which is the name most of us are familiar with in small airplanes. But the Diamond has every technology and is lighter, and is a great plane for flight training.

Matt completes the pre-flight inspection

Matt had a mock-up of the cockpit and instrument panel in his office, and he ran through an overview of what the main functions are, and what we would be doing during take-off, landing, and in the air. He went over the back maneuvers for controlling the airplane, and what I could expect once we strapped ourselves in.

“You can fly as much or as little as you want,” Matt said. “It’s up to you how much control you want to take.”

He definitely put me at ease, and was competent and reassuring. I liked his laid-back style. After the on-ground initiation, we went out to the plane. Matt did a pre-flight check, which he explained to me as he went along, and gave me a few pointers. Then it was time to strap ourselves in, contact Air Traffic Control, and be on our way!

Matt let me steer the plane on the ground, using the foot-pedal “rudders,” and after clearing with the control tower, he of course handled the take-off. But he had me keep my hands on the throttle (in between our seats) and the control stick (which each of us had in front of us) to get the feel for what was happening.

It was truly an amazing experience! We headed west to downtown, flying over the Capitol and getting a great bird’s eye view of UT and the tower. Downtown Austin was beautiful and so different from that vantage point – even though, of course, you see places in a commercial airplane at take-off and landing, you are much higher up. Here, we were just a few thousand feet and the view was much better. Also, there was more of a 360-degree vista, as I could see in front of me and on both sides.

Downtown Austin from the cockpit

After the downtown flyover, we continued west to Lake Travis. We flew over the Oasis Restaurant and, unfortunately, had an all too clear view of just how dry the lake is from this year’s drought. Matt had me take the control and turn the plane, banking right and left, and also get the feel for climbing and descending.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the airport. After clearing our approach and then waiting for a commercial Southwest flight to land, it was time for our landing. Again, Matt had me control the foot pedals to line us up with the runway. It felt tricky business, as I tended to either over or under compensate. I thought this was a good time to mention to him that once, at NASA, I had attempted landing in the simulator, about 20 times – and crashed every one of them.

Me with Matt Quillen of Streamline Air

He only laughed and said this was much easier. In fact, we touched down lightly, Matt overseeing my throttle input as I clicked the flaps down.  I was hooked, and can see how this could definitely be addictive. The entire time, Matt kept me at ease and basically said that flying is easy, really.

“Anyone can learn to fly,” he said. “I don’t like it when people try to mystify it or make it seem harder than it is. With the proper training, anyone can do it.”

Matt is an ex-Navy pilot, and has been flying since getting his private pilot certificate at Texas A&M University. He’s been a flight instructor for seven years, and he and Corey started Streamline Aviation five years ago.

If you’re interested in doing a short Intro Flight Lesson like I did, chartering a private plane for a flight, or maybe even getting your pilot license, you should contact Matt at his website, via email, or at 800-575-5098.

Bon voyage!

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One Response to “A Thrilling Bird’s Eye View”

  1. Sandy Seale November 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    You still after all these years never cease to amaze me. And I feel safe in saying that you are one of the few people I know whom I can say will not, on your deathbed, be regretting the things you didn’t do or at lease try during your lifetime. Even though I definitely haven’t accomplished all the things you have, I have on numerous occasions, thanks to you, stepped out of my comfort zone & done things I never dreamed I would ever do. And I might add enjoyed them all; but mostly the ones that made my adrenaline flow & scared me just a little bit. I also am still looking forward to more of those experiences before I leave this earth 🙂 Thanks for the memories!!!!

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