Come fly with me!

Strapped in and ready for take off!
Once upon a time, my only experience with light aircrafts was from watching Indiana Jones movies and thrilling to how this swashbuckling hero made narrow escapes by flying off in small planes among other stunts like running on top of trains and balancing under moving trucks. 

Harrison Ford, the actor in the role of Jones, also played a grumpy, wet-blanket of a pilot in romantic comedy, Six Days, Seven Nights, whose private plane crashed into an island in the South Pacific. 

Shane's Warrior II Piper plane
But my most poignant images of light aircraft were in the opening scenes of the epic drama, The English Patient, where Ralph Fiennes in the role of Count Almasy, flew over the Sahara Desert with his lover’s remains.

Slipping into a snug cockpit of a private plane was but a dream until I met Shane Lim, a flying enthusiast with the Johor Flying Club and was invited to fly with them.  That morning on which we planned to fly started clear and bright but turned overcast and threatened to rain. 

By mid-day, the dark clouds cleared but it was a bit hazy as we headed out to the hanger adjacent to the Sultan Ismail International Airport in Senai.  When I was strapped into my seat on Shane’s Warrior II Piper plane, William Lee, the club’s president, gave me my pre-flight briefing with sufficient tips to ensure that I will not do anything silly during the flight.

Coming in for landing on the runway of
Sultan Ismail International Airport, Senai
Just as in the movies, the small plane taxied briefly and gently lifted off the runway and we soared over a mosaic of greenery – close enough for me to see the tops of oil palm plantations and a variety of pretty plants in sprawling nurseries of garden centers in that area.  From the window of a passenger plane, I may still see the view outside but in a light aircraft, it was so different.  A wide expanse of the landscape spread all around us and I had a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the whole terrain!

“Take over controls,” I heard Shane say over my headphones and when my hands reached for the yoke or half steering wheel in front of me, I forgot to echo his words in acknowledgement. 

I remembered too late and quickly blurted out, “Take over controls,” and was promptly reminded to relax my hold because I was gripping the yoke too firmly.  It was both heady and humbling to feel the pull of the cross winds in my hands as we flew across the sky so freely, just like birds.  When I was giving control back to him I dutifully said, “Handing over control,” and Shane echoed my words with sheer discipline and practiced ease as he took the controls back from me.

Shane Lim [Left] with William Lee of JFC
When I stepped out of the cockpit, William, who was watching from the ground, asked, “How was it?”  I welcomed the cool winds that whipped around me because apart from the sweltering heat in the non-air conditioned cockpit, it was simply a “wow” experience! 

As I was lending a hand to help Shane and William shift the aircraft back into its parking position, it occurred to me that I’m so privileged to have various exciting experiences in the sky, on land, in the sea and even on surging rivers, wild with rapids. 

Come to think of it, I’ve had my share of fun from riding not only in boats, luxury cruise liner, trains and planes but also on horses, elephants and carriages, go-karts and dune-buggies, and now a light aircraft!  With all these adventures, I’m just looking forward to the next!

14 May 2011

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