“Dad! I Got To Drive It!”

Seven years later I took my wife’s oldest daughter and a couple of the grandkids up for a short flight. Frankie, the oldest, sat right seat and got to fly the plane, which she loved! Mom in the backseat, not so much… :)…
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
9 Sep 2023

There is a dry erase board that hangs in our house. On it my wife will write notes about goals and dreams. Over the years it has come to be known affectionately as the “Magic White Board,” because it seems that no matter how outlandish the goal or dream, if it is written on the board, it comes to pass. There have been things like “own a home” which is often a challenge in California. She once wrote on it to “own a plane” and here I am seven years later still writing posts about flying and owning a plane.

One of what should be a less audacious goal is a list of names of people that we would like to take flying. How hard can that be, assuming they are willing passengers? Apparently, more difficult than it should be, evidenced by the names of my wife’s oldest daughter, her husband, and their kids. For almost seven years now those names have been staring back at me without a little check mark next to their name signifying that they have been flying with me.

There seemed to always be too much on the schedule when we fly up to visit them in Utah or when they have come to California to sneak a flight in. But finally, those little check marks are next to names. But it almost didn’t happen.

It was a Sunday, it had been hot here, and I wasn’t really looking forward to what would be a toasty flight. We decided to go down to the airport late in the day when it would “hopefully” be a little cooler. Getting to the hangar our granddaughters helped to open the doors. It took a push from me to get it rolling and they finished off the job.

Immediately they headed to the step to climb up in. Frankie, the oldest was first, sliding into the right seat while her younger sister tried to figure out how to get in too. I lifted the youngest up on the wing walk and followed him towards the door.

“Scoot over into the other one, the other one is where you fly from,” I told Frankie hoping to make room for the other two grandkids to get in. “You fly from the left-side, the pilot sits on the left.”

She slid across to the left seat and as soon as she did, Wixom, who had snuck in front of his sister, climbed into the right seat, plopped down, and immediately grabbed hold of the yoke and started turning it from side to side. Winnie, having tired of waiting during the five seconds that had passed, saw her opportunity, and went in through the open baggage door and over the back seat.

While the girls climbed out to walk around the plane and check the lights with me, Wixom stayed in the cabin rotating the yoke from side-to-side, and looking in fascination at the opposite yoke that moved every time he turned the one in his hands.

It’s great to be at the dead-end of a hangar row. While I finished up the pre-flight Wix stayed entertained riding his scooter around. I slid the tow bar into the nose gear and with Frankie still sitting in the plane I began pulling it out of the hangar. As it rolled clear of the doors she leaned back in the seat, hands on the yoke, and proudly proclaimed, “I’m flying!” complete with airplane sounds.

I wanted to get some fuel so decided I would taxi over to the pumps with Michael and Wixom, and then after take Sharlan and the girls for a short flight. We took a picture in front of the plane and then Wixom happily climbed back in and immediately grabbed the yoke and started turning it from side to side. He may catch the flying bug early…

Otter Pops were consumed, and then I climbed in followed by Michael and Wix. Everyone buckled up and after ensuring the others were well clear of the plane, and that the kids were under close watch by mom and grandma, I yelled “Clear!” and started it up.

We made a slow taxi over to the fuel pumps and the others hopped in their car to meet us there. After getting fuel, I climbed in followed by Winnie and her mom in the backseat, and then positioned the cushion for Frankie to get in the right seat.

Everyone had their headset, but before starting up I explained a little about what we were going to do, including telling Frankie that, “When I’m talking to this guy in the tower right behind us, you don’t talk at all, you just have to listen.”

Her mom had the perfect comparison for her kids, telling them, “Like when dad’s on a phone call in the car for work you have to be really quiet.”

I continued, “I have to focus, so if you’re going to talk and you won’t stop talking I’m just going to turn your mic off, I have a button right here.”

That got a big smile and a thumbs up from Frankie.

“I bet your mom wishes she had that in her car.”

We took the obligatory selfie in the plane, if there aren’t pictures it didn’t happen right? And then, making sure everyone was clear and that someone was holding Wixom so he couldn’t run off, I started up the engine and we taxied over to the run-up area. I explained what I was doing as I went through the run-up and what it was telling me about the plane and the engine, so that I would know everything was working properly. If anything wasn’t then we wouldn’t fly.

With checklists complete and after asking if anyone had any questions, I called up Ground and received taxi clearance to runway 24. Upon reaching the end of the taxiway I let Tower know we were holding short and asked for a left downwind departure for a little air work to the east before returning. I was hoping the girls would get a view of Knotts Berry Farm as we went past.

Tower cleared us to take off and after rolling onto the runway I slid the throttle all the way in. Looking at the gages I said out loud, as I do on every take off, “We have oil pressure, we have airspeed, there’s 50 (referring to the speed), there’s 60, there’s Charlie (at KFUL taxiway Charlie is my abort if I don’t have at least 60 mph), and we are flying,” as I eased back on the yoke and the wheels left the ground.

I didn’t know at the time, but as we rolled down the runway my wife was recording that take off. Wixom, in his dad’s arms, watched in rapt attention. When we left the ground and began climbing away into the setting sun, he said, “Uh, uh, oh no, oh, oh no, oh no.”

Climbing through 2,500’ and approaching the east end of Fullerton’s airspace the Tower said, “Mooney 15 Echo, frequency change approved, talk to you on the way back.”

I leveled us off, pulled the power back, had Frankie hold onto the yoke as I explained how to make the plane turn, and then asked if she was ready to fly. “Okay, you’re flying the plane,” I said as I let go of the yoke. She made some little turns and I pulled out my phone to get a picture of her flying.

“Turn us that way,” I said pointing to the left and helping her with a little nudge on the yoke. I kept my right hand down by my side on the trim wheel to guide the pitch of the plane. For the next five minutes she flew us around with a big smile on her face.

She and I were both having a great time, and just like on my first flight, I was blissfully unaware of the stress the mom in the back seat was experiencing. When I took my first flight with the instructor in the right seat and my wife and son in the backseats, I had the time of my life, not knowing that my wife in the back was terrified. On that flight we didn’t just cruise around, we did some climbs and descents, finishing up with a couple touch and go’s and then a full stop landing.

This flight was much tamer, but evidently watching your eight-year-old fly a plane that you happen to be sitting in the back seat carries with it a measure of stress.

I took the plane back and called up tower as we reached the water treatment plant on the way back. Everything was quiet and he cleared us to land. It was beautiful, the air was smooth, the setting sun held that golden hue that made California sunsets famous.

After rolling up and shutting down in front of the hangar I reached over and popped open the door.

“How was it?” Michael asked as he walked toward the plane.

“So good,” Frankie called out from the front seat, followed quickly by “Dad, I got to drive!”

“You got to fly the airplane?” my wife asked.

Frankie proudly responded, “Yeah, I got to drive it. I was leaning, and then I went like up and down.”

As Sharlan got out Michael asked, “How was it mom?”

With a smirk on her face she responded, “Great.” You know, with just the right inflection to let you know it was maybe not so great.

“I especially liked it when Frankie got to fly.”

“You did? You actually did?” Said Frankie with a mixture of surprise and excitement in her voice.

“No,” her mom said with a smile. Followed quickly by my wife saying, “I hate it as well. It’s just more comfortable when Richard flies.”

“Why? What if I just let go?” Frankie asked.

Her mom answered, “Then Richard would have taken care of it, which is what kept me sane.”

Later she would tell my wife, “I just kept telling myself I knew Richard wouldn’t let anything happen.”

Asked what she thought Winnie said, “I looooved iiiiit!” Dragging out ‘love’ and ‘it.’ I still can’t believe it took this long to take them for a flight. The credit goes to my amazing wife, who convinced me that it wasn’t going to be that warm by the time we flew. She was right, the temps had cooled down. It was just a short 15-minute flight, but we had a wonderful time creating incredible memories.

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