I don’t always load my plane to max weight. But when I do, I’m hypersensitive about everything!
Planes don’t fly if they’re overloaded.
So…I double-check my calculations to decimal point precision. There’s a lot of them…purses, luggage, fuel, oil, blankets, water, and the precious cargo of kids!
Then there’s the center of gravity. Gotta make sure everything is balanced to help the plane hurdle gravity!
Can’t forget about the invisible threat of Arizona heat. The febrile air grows stale as the hours pass. It’s only 7am and the later it gets, the more lift I lose.
It’s a precarious balancing act. All factors — thrust, lift, weight and drag — have to meet smack-dead in the middle of perfection for our summer takeoff.
There’s no time for soothing whining kids or reffing arguments over crayons. There’s no asking dad if they can bring yet another heavy item.
The kids load first. Seat belts are untangled. Headsets are juggled in everyone’s lap. Aubrey has a pink one.
Kids are moving too slow, though. I give my oldest son, Blair, that look to “take charge of the babies.!” He’s been here before and not really giving a shit…
Mom is next. I steal a look at her “tight jeans” as she crawls in. Aside from the jeans, her main job is to keep everyone fed, hydrated and happy during flight, while backing me up on my navigation and fuel burn.
I’m the last one to climb into our tight cocoon. But I hesitate.
I review the last 15 minutes in my head.
Did I crosscheck everything?
Did I put in enough fuel to float us to the cannabis-fat air of the Colorado Rockies? I look at my fuel receipt…again.
Did I hold back enough fuel to not weigh our vessel down?
There are signs for pilots to look for when their bird can’t claw its way to the sky. I go over them mentally, as if I’m reading “The Pilot’s Handbook.” Some aviators miss them and don’t live to warn the others…Am I rested and alert enough to notice them? Is my reaction time on par to make that split-second decision to abort?
I repeat the calculations in my head, one last time, while thinking of Lea-Ann’s “jeans.” I also acknowledge that despite humans having a hundred-year track record of successful flying, lifting my family and their coloring books into the sky isn’t natural.
The great aviator Ernest Gann’s words flash through my head: “The atmosphere allows for minor degrees of penetration and it holds certain secrets. It’s not too far-fetched to suppose that only the dead have discovered them.”
I ponder what those secrets might be. As a mortal still breathing, I convince myself that carelessness and pilot error were the hunters. I gather my thoughts and treat them like a bounty of jewels — ready to be cashed in for a safe departure into a hot mass of air, aiming for a chilly ride at 13,500 ft.
I’m in the pilot’s seat.
To my youngest son, Skyler, I’m a transformer. He watches me more than any of my other three kids. He gauges my confidence, using it to boost his own as I shift around in my seat.
Flying with dad is a puzzle he’s still assembling…Dad is an anomaly. He has tattoos and a foul mouth, does jiu-jitsu, rarely socializes outside of the family and has odd work hours at home and in the lab.
Knowing my audience, my every move is sheer-display, the cheap tricks of a magician selling flimsy hoaxes as mysticism. If my movement isn’t smooth and deliberate, Skyler will be unsettled. He’ll ask a million questions until his puzzle-loving mind is satisfied.
I flip my battery on. Crank the master switch. My panel comes to life. Lights flicker, and a two-dimensional map is plastered on my screen. I twist my fuel and throttle knobs into the firewall. The engine is fed with warm fuel and I yell, “Clear prop,” like Ernest Gann and millions of others, before me. A quick twist of the ignition brings our ship to life.
On Skyler’s stage today, I’m “breaking a leg.” He shouts his approval by saying, “Love you, Papa.” The prop settles and we’re at a slow idle. I study my engine metrics and grab my lifeline: The Checklist.
The checklist is a pilot’s safety cord. It’s been used for over a century to help us fill in the blanks of our memory. It revolutionized aviation safety like soap revolutionized health. Without it, risk shoots straight up.
I check everything once and for all. Then I shift over to the foreign language of “pilot speak” to coordinate with the tower to join the thousands of other planes flying above us.
All senses engaged, feet on the rudders, hands on the yoke, flaps set, both computers running properly, I push the throttle all the way in. Our rollout is swift thanks to the 45 PSI my wheels are hauling. Our mad dash to the end of the runway is longer than usual, as expected. The end is filling up my site picture and I feel the wheels begin their tap dance. A great sign. I push the yoke forward just a hair to keep our skiff on the ground to gain more speed…
Abracadabra, we’re off the hot pavement and climbing out.
Every thousand feet above the runway signals a job well done.
At cruise altitude, I’m cleaning up my panel and cockpit like a chemist wiping down his lab bench. Blair’s asleep. Aubrey and Skyler are coloring contently, while sneaking a few glances outside. All three are most excited about riding their bikes downtown and roasting marshmallows with Grandpa.
My name is Shane “The People’s Chemist” Ellison. I hold a master’s degree in organic chemistry and am the author of Over-The-Counter Natural Cures Expanded Edition (SourceBooks). I’ve been quoted by USA Today, Shape, Woman’s World, US News and World Report, as well as Women’s Health and appeared on Fox and NBC as a medicine and health expert. Start protecting yourself and loved ones with my FREE report, 3 Worst Meds.