Category Archives: flying

WINGSPREAD Ezine for February, 2023

“Spreading your wings in a perplexing world”

February 2023                                                            James P. Hurd

Please forward and share this E-zine with anyone. Thank you.


  • Blessed Unbeliever release
  • Writer’s Corner
  • New story
  • This month’s puzzler
  • Wingspread Ezine subscription information
  • Wisdom


In Blessed Unbeliever, Sean McIntosh has good reason to doubt his fundamentalist faith— he’s just lost his girlfriend and his life dream of aviation. But when he turns to unbelief, he finds it harder than he ever imagined—especially at Torrey Bible Institute! So he commits a secret act of blasphemy to convince himself he is an atheist. It’s a long journey back to his girlfriend, his life dream, and his faith. (Wipf and Stock, January 2023.)


Or, click HERE to view on  (Amazon also has an electronic Kindle version.)

Writers’ Corner

Word of the Month: ENDORSEMENT: A few sentences recommending a book—often found on the back cover.

Tip of the month: Normally, you do not use a comma if you’re joining two sentences:

Wrong: Bill went downtown, and Sally went to the country.

Correct: Bill went downtown and Sally went to the country.

Author of the month: IGNATIUS. A first century Christian bishop who, while on the way to Rome to die a martyr’s death, wrote a letter to Bishop Polycarp in which he speaks of the invisible God become visible. An early proclamation of the Christ.

Book of the month: CELTIC DAILY PRAYER. (Books I and II.) Northumbria Community. A marvelous book of scriptures and daily readings, including writings by Celtic Christians.

Immortal lines in movies. Eric contributed: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” (one policeman to another in Blade Runner)

Yes, but why are you here?

New story: Chiapas Air Ambulance

We’re circling over Corralito, a remote airstrip in Chiapas State, Mexico. I check for animals on the strip and wonder if the injured Tzeltal Indian man is still alive. The tiny strip lies tucked in below a cornfield on a terraced hillside, so I need to approach around a low hill. At the last minute the airstrip appears in my windshield. We bank, line up with the strip and soon feel the long grass under our wheels as we taxi the red and white Cessna 180 over to where Mario lies inert on a stretcher with his tumid stomach bulging below his pulled-up shirt.

Antonio, his brother, stands by mute while another man talks to me in Spanish. “Capitán, Mario was feeding stalks into the trapiche sugar cane press when the horse’s bar turned and squeezed him against the press.” As we lay the injured man in the airplane, I think, he’s young; he has a good chance of pulling through. . . .  To read more, click above.

(Leave a comment on the website and share with others: . Thanks.)

This month’s puzzler:

Drake, the head detective, has three candidates who’ve applied for an assistant detective job, so he decides to test them with a little quiz. “Look guys, there’s a crime that needs to be solved and there’s a clue in one of the public libraries in Bakersfield. The clue is stuck inside a book, between pages 165 and 166. The book was written by two famous brothers about cars.”

Two of the guys jump up and bolt out the door. The third guy just sits there. Drake says, “You got the job.” Why did he get the job? What did he know that the other two guys didn’t know?  Hint: an author might be more likely to get this puzzler. (Answer next month.)

Last month’s puzzler: Recall that Mrs. Simmons, the suburban housewife, was very fond of her mother-in-law. One morning after breakfast, she went shopping and then stopped as she often did, to have a mid-morning cup of coffee with the older woman. When Mrs. Simmons returned home, the first thing she saw was the grizzly remains of her husband . . .

Instead of calling a doctor or the police, she calmly went about her domestic chores. Why?

Answer: Walking in her door, Mrs. Simmons viewed the vase containing her husband’s cremains.

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 Creative new words:   

Reintarnation (n.): coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Sarchasm (n.): the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

Osteopornosis (n.): a degenerate disease

Decafhalon (n.): getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Beelzebug (n.): satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three a.m. and cannot be cast out.

Caterpallor (n.): the color you turn when you discover only half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

Cashtration (n.): the act of buying a house that renders the subject financially impotent.

Intaxication (n.): euphoria at getting a tax refund, then realizing it was always your money anyway.

Karmageddon (n.): It’s like, when everybody is sending off these bad vibes, right? And then, like, the earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

I mean, you’ve got to be kidding.

Nine Important Facts to Remember as We Grow Older

#9. Death is the number one killer in the world.

#8. Life is sexually transmitted.

#7. Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#6. Men have two motivations: hunger and sex, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.

#5. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.

#4. Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

#3. All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

#2. In the 60s, people took LSD to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.

#1. Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today may be a burning issue tomorrow.

Chiapas Air Ambulance

A repeat of a story blogged four years ago.

(Please share this story with others and “rate” it, below.)

We’re circling over Corralito, a remote airstrip in Chiapas State, Mexico. I check for animals on the strip and wonder if the injured Tzeltal Indian man is still alive. The tiny strip lies tucked in below a terraced cornfield on a hillside, so I need to approach around a low hill. At the last minute the airstrip appears in my windshield. We bank, line up with the strip and soon we feel the long grass under our wheels as we taxi the red and white Cessna 180 over to where Mario lies inert on a stretcher with his tumid stomach bulging below his pulled-up shirt.

Antonio, his brother, stands by mute while another man talks to me in Spanish. “Capitán, Mario was feeding stalks into the trapiche sugar cane press when the horse’s bar turned and squeezed him against the press.” As we lay the injured man in the airplane, I think, he’s young; he has a good chance of pulling through.

We depart Corralito for our home base. San Cristobal sits on the Pan American highway at an altitude of 7,200 feet, landlocked in the bottom of a vast basin with high mountains surrounding. Last night a squally norther blew across the region and its soggy remains still stick fast to the mountains. I test the entrails of the storm, probing one cloud-clogged pass after another. Finally I see a bit of light where the Comitán highway snakes between two hills. We high-jump the pass and then drop down into San Cristobal bowl. We can see the ground, but a solid wall of clouds plugs the path ahead! I bank steeply in the cramped head of the valley to reverse course, pulling on flaps to decrease our turning radius. We cut it so close it seems the wing seems buried halfway into the mountainside. Even using the best angle of climb we barely make it back through the narrow pass. I almost decide to divert to Tuxtla down in the valley, but at the last minute we slide through a hole along the rim and drop down into the huge San Cristobal bowl.

After landing in the late afternoon light, Chuck, the chief pilot, helps me load Mario into our old Chevy van to drive him to the small hospital for X-rays. The doctor tells us, “His interior organs are damaged. He needs to go to Tuxtla.”

We can’t fly at night; we must take him down the mountain in the van. So again we load him in and soon we’re on our way down the winding road. I think, Antonio must feel helpless in the hands of strangers who are struggling to save his brother’s life. I sit in the back next to the patient, feeling his heaving chest and listening to his hoarse, shallow breathing.

Then white foam bubbles out of his mouth—his lungs must be filling with fluid! I tell Chuck to drive faster. Then his breathing stops.

Antonio asks me in broken Spanish, “Will we get there in time?”

“We’ll try our best.”

Then I realize he’s gone. Antonio begs us to continue on to Tuxtla, but Chuck tells him, “There’s nothing we can do; it’s too late. We’ll have to go back to San Cristobal. If there’s still a little bit of life in him when we arrive, we’ll see the doctor again.”

We head back into town and rouse the doctor in the middle of the night to ask for a death certificate. He gives it to us, but we can’t quickly get the additional permit to transport the body back to Corralito so we’ll have to do it secretly. We drive into our darkened hangar and carefully lay the man onto the floor of the plane. His forlorn brother works to arrange the limp limbs before rigor mortis sets in. I get back to my hostel late, vomit, and then lie sleepless all night. It’s the first time I’ve seen a man die.


The next day at first light, Chuck takes off to fly the body back to Corralito. Antonio, dejected, sits in the copilot seat. I walk outside the hangar feeling the morning chill, my eyes following the plane as it climbs out over the valley—a tiny red dot silhouetted against the green mountains. I know something of grace in my life; I now pray grace for the dear, waiting family who must plan for a funeral. I trust that our work can continue here and that our flight service can help lighten the load for many of these Chiapanecos.

Click HERE to view Blessed Unbeliever on

Why Do I Make Stupid Mistakes?

I do stupid things. I know; everyone does. But I’ve elevated it to an art form. I turn on the wrong stove burner, miss doctor’s appointments, forget to put the car in park. I’ve locked my padlock key in the gym locker, forgotten to close the garage door for the night, forgotten to lock the house doors, showed up for a wedding, and later a funeral, on the wrong day, turned into the wrong side of a divided highway, backed into a light pole guywire.

Take when I crashed my 2011 Toyota Prius. The hybrid Prius is easy to get used to. But being a hybrid, the car runs on an engine plus an electric motor, and the car can be “on” even when the engine is stopped.

This day I pull up to our mailbox and put the four-way flashers on. When I jump out, the car begins rolling forward until I jump back in and slam on the brake.

Another time I’m waiting in line for gas and get out to see how many cars are ahead of me. The car starts rolling. I jump in and brake just before I slam into the car in front of me.

I tell myself, “I’ll never do that again.” But  I do, and the next time I pay for it.

I pull into my garage and sit there with my foot still on the brake, listening to MPR on the radio. The engine has stopped. After five minutes I turn the radio off and get out. The car then runs ahead into my workbench and damages the bumper ($700). Once again I’d forgotten to put the car in park and also forgotten to turn the car off.

Why did this happen? For starters, I was stopping the car for long periods of time keeping my foot on the brake without putting the car in park. Then I was taking my foot off the brake without checking that the car was in park or turned off.

Then there was the time I ran a red light. We are leaving my friend’s medical appointment in an unfamiliar part of the city. I’m talking animatedly about his procedure, our families, church. I approach an intersection, carefully look both ways—and then roll through a red light! I was focused on our conversation instead of focusing on my driving.

Worse when people do stupid stuff in the air. I flew a twin engine Cessna 310 to Amarillo, Texas, and offered to take three friends up for a ride. After we take off and climb to 4000 feet, I switch from using the main fuel tanks to the auxiliary tanks. Then I decide to practice flying single engine, so I shut down and feather the right engine. All goes well, but when I try to restart the engine it won’t start. I’m slowly losing altitude. I add full power on the good engine and frantically try to restart the dead engine. Nothing. Still losing altitude.

I decide we’ll have to land on a single engine, so I enter the Amarillo traffic pattern. We’re sinking lower and lower and I worry we won’t make the runway. I am so obsessed trying to restart the engine that I fail to check other systems.

I start my prelanding checklist and almost too late, I realize three things. I should never have practiced engine shutdown with a full load of passengers. The extended landing gear is creating more drag and causing our rapid descent.

Plus, I notice I’m still running on the aux fuel tanks. I switch the tanks back to mains and the engine immediately starts. Turns out that only the main fuel tanks have a boost pump to push the gas up to the engines. So you always need to start the engines on the main tank.

So how do I avoid doing stupid stuff? Problem is, there are different kinds of stupid mistakes. We can divide them into mistakes of knowledge, of skill, and of judgment.

First, mistakes of knowledge.  When I ran the red light, I didn’t know the streets and intersections well; first time I’d been in that area of town. In the Cessna 310 case, I did not know the fuel valve had to be on the main tank for starting.

Once I worked three hours trying to fix the brakes on my car. Then I checked out a YouTube video and was able to finish the job in twenty minutes. I needed more knowledge.

Flight instructing at Orange County Airport (now John Wayne Airport), my boss told me to test-fly a repaired plane. I jumped into the little Ercoupe (“so simple anyone can fly it”) and took off. When I came back to land in a roaring crosswind, I just about wrapped it up in a little aluminum ball. I should have known that the landing gear swivels so that the airplane can land with its nose cocked into the wind. I hadn’t even glanced at the owner’s manual. Lack of knowledge almost killed me.

Preplanning builds knowledge. Once we were driving with some friends to a small-town event in Wisconsin and ended up driving one hour north instead of south. We missed the event. If I would have studied  a map, we would have arrived in time.

Renting a car? Speeding away from the rental office at night, in the rain, in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar city makes for some interesting (and dangerous) gymnastics in the first ten minutes. Always take the time to check out mirror-adjusts, emergency brake, headlights, four-ways, instrument panel, windshield wipers before moving.

A planning calendar, consulted weekly or even daily, means fewer missed appointments. In aviation, many (fatal) accidents could have been avoided if the pilot had checked the weather conditions beforehand. In flying, as in driving, you cannot do too much preplanning before you go.

Second, mistakes of skill. With my Prius, I had the knowledge; I knew how the hybrid system worked. But I had not practiced driving the car in various scenarios. I hadn’t developed good skills, such as never stopping without putting the car in park, or never removing my foot from the brake without checking to see if the car begins rolling.

In aviation, instructors talk about “overlearning”—continued practicing after you have learned a maneuver. Many states restrict driving privileges at night until the driver has practiced during the daytime.

My flight instructor would tell me, “Report incidents; prevent accidents.” Pay attention to incidents. An incident means you need more practice.

In aviation we practice emergency landings, flying with instrument failures, flying in unexpected weather. One should also (safely) practice emergencies in driving a car—loss of brakes, loss of steering, uncontrolled skids. Practice makes perfect.

Checklists build skill. With the Cessna 310, I failed to use the emergency checklist that would have reminded me to switch to main tanks for startup. Even in a car, it’s good to have a checklist. Checklists reduce the chance of missing something.

Be intentional. Do not rely on “muscle memory”—those automatic movements you are familiar with. Once my friend was flying, coming in to land. We were talking. He automatically reached down to pull on the carburetor heat but pulled the mixture instead. The engine stopped until I yelled, “mixture!”

A friend was transitioning to a new airplane. He landed, then reached over to raise the flaps—and pulled the landing gear up underneath him! In this new airplane, the landing gear lever was in the same location as the flaps lever in the previous plane.

Distractions. Managing distractions is a learned skill. After running the red light, I realized I needed to stop talking and concentrate on my driving in an unfamiliar environment. Other distractions: trying to talk to someone sitting in the back seat, juggling a soft drink and a sandwich while fiddling with the heater and the GPS. Answering your cellphone. Many pilots have the rule of a “sterile cockpit”: no talking or other distractions five minutes before takeoff or five minutes before landing. I try to have the rule of no distractions when driving through an intersection or even when driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood. For instance, I turn the radio off.

But mistakes of judgment are the most dangerous.

Risk factors. Years ago I drove through a construction zone at high speed—at night, in the rain, tired. I saw fast-moving bright lights, swerved, and barely missed a huge rumbling earthmover. I had underestimated the multiple risk factors: Night. Windy. Unfamiliar road. Construction zone. Exhausted driver. Any one of these is manageable but when they pile up, you’re in danger. For instance, you may be safe driving at night, but if it’s windy and the roads are icy, you’ve multiplied your risk factors. You must be conscious of how many risk factors you’re dealing with. Three strikes and you’re out.Good judgment demands assessing the risk factors.

Overconfidence. I ran the red light not only because I was distracted; I was also overconfident. Most people assume they’re better drivers than other people. We tend to overestimate our abilities—think about the sixteen-year-old boy who drives confidently at 100 mph in a residential neighborhood. The greatest judgment mistake is overconfidence.

So, how to avoid doing stupid things? Here’s a starter list:

  • Read the instructions (written or digital)
  • Plan carefully before executing a complex task
  • Consider a written checklist and follow it
  • Practice emergencies before you experience them
  • Take “incidents” very seriously, and change your behavior
  • Be intentional; don’t rely on muscle memory
  • Reduce distractions
  • Remember that multiple danger factors multiply risk
  • Avoid the trap of overconfidence

We all need to learn more, practice more, and use better judgment. I still do stupid things—just not quite as often.

Here’s to your increased safety!

WINGSPREAD Ezine for September, 2021

“Spreading your wings in a perplexing world”

September, 2021                                                                                             James P. Hurd

Please forward, and share this E-zine with anyone. Thank you.


  • New story
  • Puzzler of the month
  • Writer’s Corner
  • How to purchase Wingspread: A Memoir of Faith and Flying
  • Wingspread E-zine subscription information


 New story: “The Unfaithful Wife” 

The big tires skim the six-inch grass as we roll to a stop and taxi up to the houses. I open the side window and inhale the cooler air. Wally and Marg Jank are waiting with the patient, who lies on a stretcher.

Wally translates the loud chatter of the Yanomamo women standing around. “I wonder if she’ll die…? She’s so young… Her husband was really mad… How terrible he cut her leg off…! Serves her right for messing around with that other guy; I wonder what her husband will do to him…?” And sundry other helpful comments. The Yanomamo live in scattered shobonos of about 50 people each. Venezuelan healthcare does not extend to this remote location, and neither does law and order. The men frequently wage war on neighboring villages. The people go completely naked. The men expect their wives to obey them and to quickly accede to their demands . . .

To read more, click here:

(*Please leave a comment on the website. Thanks.)

Puzzler for the month for September

The Loose Caboose ( from “Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers”):

Imagine, if you will, a long freight train. Like the kind you see out West with a couple hundred cars getting ready to leave the train yard. The engineer opens the throttle and the train starts to pull away from the yard. Then they realize that the caboose has a problem. The brake is frozen on one of the wheels of the caboose, and the wheel is being dragged so there are sparks and smoke. 

Someone standing there says, “Stop the train.” So, they manage to signal to the engineer, to stop the train. Well, they can’t fix it, so they just cut the caboose loose. They remove it and they give the engineer the go ahead. They wave him. You know. Go ahead. He gives it the throttle. The train doesn’t move.

He gives it more throttle, it doesn’t move. He gives it more and what’s happening in the train isn’t moving, but his wheels are spinning. There’s nothing wrong with any of the remaining cars and there’s nothing wrong with the engine, but there is something wrong with the engineer.

The question is why won’t the train move?
(Answer in next month’s Ezine)

Remember August’s puzzler: “The interchangeable part”?

What part of a car is virtually interchangeable with virtually any other car, whether it’s foreign or domestic?

Answer from Tom and Ray: 

Now, a lot of people wrote in and said things like, “the air in the tires,” “the oil in the crankcase.” But we said it was an actual mechanical part — not a fluid. We did research this for six or seven minutes.

The answer is the Schrader tire valve, the valve that goes in the stem. It’s called that because it’s made by the Schrader Company.

It’s a little check valve that keeps the air from coming out. It allows you to put air into the tire, yet it does not allow air to escape.

You can take that out of any car. In fact, we’ve taken them out of all the cars in the parking lot… and all the cars in the parking lot now have flat tires.

Writers’ Corner

Watch for my upcoming novel: East Into Unbelief (provisional title)

Sean loses his father, his best girlfriend, his life dream, and finally, his faith. How can he be a good atheist, especially when he’s stuck at Torrey Bible Institute? He can’t see it, but grace is coming . . .

Word of the Month:  Developmental editing [as opposed to line editing or proofreading]. A higher-level critique of your plot, character development, scenes.

Tip of the month: Was it Elmore Leonard who said that if you wish to be a published writer, you need to spend lots of time and lots of money? I just contracted for an editor’s critique of my novel’s first 50 pages, plus a critique of my synopsis.

Buy James Hurd’s Wingspread: A Memoir of Faith and Flying  How childhood (Fundamentalist) faith led to mission bush-piloting in South America—and Barbara. Buy it here:  (or order it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.) 

See pics here related to Wingspread: Of Faith and Flying:

Follow “james hurd” on Facebook, or “@hurdjp” on Twitter

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More paraprosdokians!

  • I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it. –Groucho Marx
  • He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce, I keep the house. –Zsa Zsa Gabor
  • I haven’t slept for 10 days, because that would be too long. –Mitch Hedberg
  • Standing in the park today, I was wondering why a frisbee looks larger the closer it gets… Then it hit me. –Stewart Francis
  • When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them. –Rodney Dangerfield
  • My husband hates seeing trash and garbage lying around the house – he can’t stand the competition. –Phyllis Diller
  • I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it. –Jack Handey
  • The company accountant is shy and retiring. He’s shy a quarter of a million dollars. That’s why he’s retiring. –Milton Berle
  • I’m a very tolerant man, except when it comes to holding a grudge. –Robin Williams
  • I saw a bank that said “24 Hour Banking,” but I don’t have that much time. –Stephen Wright
  • I always remember my grandfather’s last words: “A truck!” –Emo Phillips
  • Half of all marriages end in divorce—and then there are the really unhappy ones. –Joan Rivers
  • There are three kinds of people in the world – those who can count, and those who can’t. –Unknown

First Solo

I’d washed out of Moody’s flight school two years before, but remained at the Institute’s downtown Chicago campus to take courses in Bible and missions.

All of us students ate in the vast dining hall in Crowell Hall basement. I would look across at the flyboys who ate with us groundlings, but sat at their own separate table. They trained out at Moody-Wooddale Airport two days a week, but they lived here. Most of them wore immaculate, black flying boots. I don’t know how anyone could be a good pilot without black flying boots. Dave explained to me how he would smell burnt leather when he spent two hours burning off the old polish and applying the new. And their aviation glasses—gray-shaded and expensive. I didn’t feel worthy to wear flight boots or aviation glasses.

But I constantly dreamed of flying. I read and re-read the FAA’s small booklets—Facts of Flight, Path of Flight, and Realm of Flight (aerodynamics, navigation, and weather), and Wolfgang Langewiesche’s classic Stick and Rudderstill the best book I’ve ever read on flying.

When summer came to Chicago, several of the flyboys carpooled home to California, and took me along so I could visit my family. As we drove across the Midwest, I imagined every passing field a potential airstrip.

Now it is August of 1961, and fourteen of us enter Moody’s two-week flight camp. This is my final chance. After two weeks of training, I am one of only eight men accepted into the program.

The next day, our instructor, Leo, leads a gaggle of new pilots out to a tiny Cessna 150 sitting on the flight line. “Gentlemen, this is an airplane.” We all write it down. The airplane weighs 1500 pounds, and rocks in a light breeze—you can easily raise one wing and lift a wheel off the ground. It has a 100 HP Continental air-cooled engine that burns five gallons per hour.

Leo says, “Drain a little gas out of the gascolator to check if there’s any water.” I drain. The cold, green liquid overflows the little drain cup and runs down my arm. No water, but the fumes intoxicate me.

I write my Dad about Moody Wooddale airport: “It’s really a pasture—the ‘runways’ are all short-mowed grass.” But we will soon get very familiar with this pasture. After a summer downpour, the sodden field turns into an airplane-trap, sucking at the planes’ wheels. Once I got stuck, and had to get help to push the airplane out of a muddy, watery hole. Mr. Anderson sent me out with boots and said, “You have to stomp around in the mud and smooth out the ruts.”

Once every two weeks, Mr. Anderson has to pull a mower behind his red Farmall tractor, driving round and round for hours. After he mows he sets up bright yellow cones along each of the runways. No other markers and no lights. For night operation, Mr. Anderson puts smudge pots out along the sides of runway 18, the 3000-foot north-south runway. When you take off to the south, you climb out over the houses of Wood Dale, and when you circle back around low to land you head-waggle to look for cars along Thorndale Rd.

Runway 24 runs off to the southwest toward a narrow departure tunnel cut through the woods. On a hot, humid day, a Cessna 150 with two people and full fuel can barely rise fast enough to traverse the tree tunnel. Once, when I forgot to retract landing flaps before climb-out, I thought I would carry some of the tree branches with me.

In winter, the whole airfield turns white, so Mr. Anderson plows the airstrips and opens some taxiways. We put the J-3 Piper Cubs on skis for winter operation. The J-3 works well on the snow, but the skis have no brakes, so you have to plan ahead. One cold winter day I had an engine failure in a J3 Cub (my fault), and almost hit the 12-inch approach lip at the east end of runway 09.

Our tiny airport lies in the shadow of Chicago’s O’Hare International. We have to fly below 300 feet because the huge commercial jets approaching O’Hare airport scream over just above us. Each day, fledgling pilots and their instructors take off and fly west through a narrow, prescribed corridor out to our practice area. We learn to watch the smoke on the ground to determine wind direction. Here, we practice turns-about-a-point, S-turns across the road, slow flight, stalls, and spin entries.

This day, I’ve been flying with Leo for about an hour. After a few practice landings, Leo abandons his instructor’s seat beside me, and says, “Well, take ‘er around a couple of times. Remember she’ll be lighter without me in there.”

Suddenly I’m alone, and the next landing will be up to me. No support, no help, not even radio contact with Leo. I carefully taxi out to the runway.

As I take off and circle around, I notice a tiny dot along the active airstrip—it’s Leo, wearing black flight boots and grey aviation goggles, standing there and staring up at me. I take off and make a shallow bank onto crosswind leg. After reaching 300 feet altitude, I pull the power back and level off. Then I turn left onto downwind leg and begin a pre-landing check—fuel valve on, mixture rich, carburetor heat hot. I turn base leg, start a descent, and add 20 degrees of flaps. The last descending turn aligns me with the runway, and I lower full flaps.

But with Leo’s weight absent, the airplane is too buoyant. I point the nose down, but I’m too fast and too high! I remember my training—add full power, retract flaps, climb out, and circle around to try again. The second approach is a repeat of the first—too fast and too high.

I can’t see Leo’s face, but I imagine he’s wondering if I will get the airplane on the ground before sundown. On the third try I’m still too fast and high, but I determine to land anyway. I paste the wheels onto the ground far down the runway, then stand on the toe brakes to bring it to a skidding stop just short of the end.

When I taxi back, Leo says, “I’ve never gotten back into an airplane after a solo flight, and I’m not going to start now. Try it again. Slow up more on downwind leg, and start your descent sooner.” I take off again. This time I watch the speed, start the descent earlier, and come in for a perfect landing.

My first solo opened up a new world to me and began an adventure of a lifetime. But for the next 6,000 hours of flying I never forget Leo’s advice—slow ‘er up and start your descent early!