The first entry into my Pilot’s logbook was on 16 August 2012. I was four weeks pregnant with our second baby and didn’t know it.
By that time I have been on a waiting list at the flying school for some time and was really psyched up and ready to learn to fly. My deposit was paid a few weeks before and the ground school books were sitting on our dining room table.
From the very first flying lesson, the instructors allowed students to handle the takeoff. If at first one still had their doubts, the responsibility of getting a plane in the air really sorted that. For me, a complete novice who had been dreaming of flying for a while, this was the greatest thrill. Of course, anyone who could follow three simple instructions could do it: Apply full power, keep her on the center line and wait for 60 mph on the airspeed indicator before you lift the nose wheel and off she flies by herself. With a whole lot of right rudder from the instructor, of course, but that little crucial detail they spared us during the initial flight. After that, I was hooked. Things were looking great. This was going to be a breeze.
Needless to say, when a few days later we found out about the little bean we were over the moon. Our eldest had just turned one so he would be just short of two when his sibling arrived. We couldn’t be happier!
Considering the logistics, we realised that if I wanted to obtain my PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) any time within the following decade or so, it probably would be easiest to do it while there was still only one baby in the house, and while said baby still took daytime naps. So, after our doctor confirmed that there was no medical reason why I couldn’t fly during the pregnancy, I planned to complete the course in the remaining eight months. But oh, if I only knew how interesting it would still get.
Of course, I then did what any responsible pregnant student pilot would do: I didn’t inform my instructors.
Twelve weeks of flight instruction went by and I had to start wearing looser tops. Luckily I was never really nauseous during my pregnancies but I had to make sure I visited the bathroom before a flying lesson. Things progressed pretty smoothly. The cat was still in the bag and for very good reason. I was waiting to complete flying exercises 10 and 11: Stalling and spinning.
Now, we know that with the entering of composite aircraft to the market and too many incompetent, low time instructors, spinning an aircraft hasn’t been part of the PPL syllabus for some years. But in our flight school, we trained in a Cessna 172. The Toyota Hilux of the sky. And the nimble-handed aerobatics pilot who happened to be the instructor in question reminisced about his first flying lessons at the tender age of six at the hand of his formidable ex-SAAF pilot father. This instructor very ably taught spinning, and he made sure his students knew how to recover from it. And that was the savvy that I was gunning for. I kept the pregnancy under wraps for fear that breaking the news earlier may have had me miss out on the full experience of stalling and spinning training, as much as I dreaded it.
Now, under normal flight circumstances, granted that the pilot is at his full senses and has clear forward visibility, a stalled aircraft wing is not supposed to pose a problem. Also not while he is doing it intentionally during training or for whatever other intentional reasons one may want to stall an aircraft. Recognising a stall during normal flight is usually not that hard, and neither is early recovery.
An aircraft in a spin, however, is the unfortunate result of not correcting a stalled wing fast enough. Or, in this case, the deliberate entering of your imminent demise with a nonchalant, wide-grinning instructor sitting on his hands, seemingly drawing unbounded pleasure from the terror-stricken shrieks and air-clawing of his hysterical student in the left-hand seat. This is apparently still considered normal operating circumstances.
So after going through the drills (several times), I can honestly say I am not a fan. I am brave and all for fun and games, but you know what they say about opening an umbrella in somebody’s whatever? That is how I feel about spinning. And I can promise you on the shallow grave of all the preciously guarded inhibitions which I had to bid farewell on that very momentous day, that I will practice those stall recoveries. But spin? Never. Thank you. Not for me.
And only then, after our safe and physically unscathed return to the airfield, after not spilling my guts in the cockpit, did I share the news of the bean in the baking. How did they take the news? Like any staunchly fearless, unflappable instructor. Nobody batted an eyelid.
I continued with ground school and flight instruction without any hiccups until a few weeks before Baby was due. Needless to say, he was steeping in a pool of adrenaline for most of his gestation. By the time we got to touch-and-goes, the babe was a big bundle of wiggles and squiggles on my front side. He seemed to especially enjoy it when things got a little busy in the circuit, or when we pulled a G or two during emergency training. Four weeks before Baby was born we undertook our first solo flight.
But more on that later.