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A personal recollection of what it means becoming a pilot for the US Air Force

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Have you ever wanted to fly a plane? It’s been my dream in life to become a pilot and be able to fly planes. Last year I joined a group called Civil Air Patrol (CAP) which is an auxillary of The United States Air Force. As a CAP Cadet member we can be the co-pilot of a CAP biplane. My friend and I signed up and got accepted to fly over the weekend. I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up, they made my parents and I sign a waiver and told us what to do in case of an emergency. After our meeting we went out to the hanger to do a pre-flight inspection. I saw our biplane, about the size of a small car, sitting in the middle of the hanger. I thought to myself, how are we going to fit three people in that? It couldn’t have been more the 10 feet long and it looked like it only had 2 seats in it. It was a white plane with Civil Air Patrol written on the side of it in red and blue colors and the ID number was on the tail written in black.

We walked around the plane and the pilot showed us how the wings and flaps worked by letting us move them up and down to make sure they were free and not getting stuck. After we checked the wings and flaps the pilot took out a small tube attached to a jar and pushed it into a hole under the wing. A small amount of jet fuel came out into the jar, he told us that the reason you have to do that is to make sure there isn’t any sediment in the fuel or anything else that could clog the filters in mid-flight. The jet fuel had a strong smell which smelled like regular gasoline mixed with oil and was a light yellow color. After we checked the fuel the pilot crawled up on the wing and poured the tube of clean jet fuel back into the tank. At $15 a gallon you don’t want to waste it! The last thing we checked was the tire pressure and that completed the pilot’s pre-flight check list. Finally, we pushed the plane out of the hanger onto the runway.

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Only one person could fly at a time so I let my friend fly first. I could barely fit into the small back seat, but I squeezed between the pilot’s duffle bag and equipment. I had a difficult time buckling the very small seatbelt so I sucked my gut in. The plane was hot inside and didn’t have air conditioning, however, we were able to open a small window a little bit during our flight to blow out the hot 90 degree air. After we got inside and opened the window the pilot turned the key and started the plane. The whole plane shook violently when it started and during the flight, it never stopped shaking! It was louder than I expected and sounded like a train on railroad tracks. We put on headphones with a microphone built in so we would be able to communicate easier. We were also able to communicate with the flight tower through this headset.

The pilot steered the plane on the runway and asked the flight tower if it was clear for takeoff; they responded back telling us that it was clear skies ahead. The plane gained speed on the runway as the pilot pushed the throttle up and gained altitude, once in the air he then pulled back to the appropriate altitude. During takeoff the controls on the dash were beeping and reading all kinds of information. Once we reached the height we needed to be at the dashboard stopped beaping and quieted down. At this point the pilot let my friend take control of the plane. He flew around for about an hour while I watched the earth below. I saw farmers cutting and bailing hay. I could tell where he cut because it was a lighter green from where he didn’t cut. We flew over several highways which looked as if they were only small cracks in the earth and the cars looked like ants traveling on these cracks. Houses looked like toys and huge lakes and rivers looked as small as little puddles. The world looked so small from only 3,000 feet above.

My friend flew from Lexington, KY to Ohio and then the pilot took over the controls and landed us at a small airstrip. We taxied over to the fuel pump and refueled the plane. It seemed cooler there than back in Lexington where we took off. While we were filling up with jet fuel some of it spilled on the ground leaving a very strong smell in the surrounding area. It was much stronger than the smell from the jetfuel pre-flight check. The sun was shining down on the blacktop runway which made it feel like it was 100 degrees outside. I was hot, sweating, and ready to leave, but we had to do another pre-flight check to make sure everything was still alright. We were able to board the plane and this time I got to sit in the front seat which had a lot more room. The pilot went to start the plane and after a few times of sputtering he told us it was overheating and that it needed to cool off. We had to push it out of the way so other planes could refuel.

We sat on the hot black topped runway for about an hour and then tried to start the plane again. At first it sputtered and wouldn’t start, but then it finally started and kept running. We were excited to be on our way! I was in the co-pilot seat and the pilot explained to me what all the gadgets and gauges meant. He also explained the steps on how to fly the bi-plane. He taxied the plane onto the runway and took off. As soon as we were over 3,000 feet he let me take over. I put my hands on the Yoke (the steering wheel of the plane) and started to take control. It was harder than I thought it would be, you have to constantly pull up or push down to maintain being level. On the floor there were pedals for the flaps of the plane. The flaps helped our rear end stay straight and not cause us to turn sideways. Once I got the hang of it the pilot let me turn in a big circle and do a figure eight. He showed me how to read the compass and GPS and also showed me how to tell if we were level by using the compass. We flew under and through clouds which cause updrafts and cause your plane to pull upward and make you lose your sense of direction. When we flew through updrafts which made it hard to control the plane and I had to pull the yoke down hard to stay level.

I was able to fly from a small airport in Ohio back to Lexington which took about 2 hours. We flew 80 miles per hour, but made several sweeping turns. I was able to talk with the flight tower and tell them we were coming into Lexington and what our coordinates were. Once we came into Lexington airspace the pilot had to take over the controls. He landed us gently on the runway and taxied us back to our hanger. When we got out we did a post flight inspection to make sure there was no damage and everything was properly working. We met our parents and took a picture with the pilot and the plane. I was overjoyed to finally fly a plane and I can’t wait to continue my dream of becoming a pilot for the United States Air Force.

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