The sky was blue and the sun’s warmth hadn’t quite begun to penetrate the blanket of cool air that Wisconsin’s east coast had developed that night in the absence of the world’s weather generator. My mom was leaving the house with me, her 17 year old son who still had the ink drying on his private pilot certificate. She probably had second thoughts on skipping the Dramamine dose she had planned on but aborted in an attempt to keep her memory of the event clear.
From age 8, I was hooked on aviation and she was the supplier of printer paper and toner for elaborate reports, diorama and poster board adornment supplies, trips to Airventure, chaperone of EAA museum visits, and “Kabash” placer on all things remote control airplane related. (The good clearly did not outweigh the bad to me at that age.) To describe my mom in any situation, I would have to add that she would get motion sickness from a 20 foot journey backward in the family car to leave the driveway. She wouldn’t entertain a participative role on a trip to a roller coaster park. My mom would conveniently be busy when a field trip, calling for chaperones, would include the IMAX theater experience. (A brief bout of this ailment actually had me guessing my body’s feasibility in the role of Sky King, but I blocked it out.)
We pulled up to West Bend Municipal Airport and parked the car. I strolled up to the front desk, casually as always since I was not only known as a former student, but also currently was a weekend lineman. My fellow employees gave my mom a grin which really paled in comparison to the proud one across my face. They exchanged pleasantries and even razzed my mom about the courage she had in taking to the skies with the likes of me. Of course it was followed by how good of a student and worker I was. Little did they know the battle that my poor, supportive, mom was going through during that forced conversation. After checking the airplane's clipboard for existing squawks and latest hobbs time record, I asked my mom to come out with me and allow me to walk her through the preflight. Understanding the tension that was in the air, I had hoped more knowledge of the machine would lead to a more relaxing experience. Ever ask someone if they’ve flown before? As a pilot, you get used to the response consisting of: “Yeah, in airliners like XYZ, but never in small airplanes. “This is not cool. Don’t say “SMALL”, instead say “one like this” or something of that nature. Anyway, she definitely remarked at how small the plane was numerous times. I had just taken 3 months to Master the Beast that IS the Cessna 152 and she’s going to call it small! I realize now that it was just her dealing with a stressful event. While I didn’t pick up on that then, she was still my mom, so I continued to take strides to boost her confidence. Eventually we got to the runway hold short line of 24. The mission I had briefed her on, was to fly the 8nm to our family hobby farm, flash the landing lights to the horses and any others who might be outside from a plenty safe altitude, way above sparsely populated minimums, return to West Bend’s runway 24 for a normal landing, followed by some performance landings to show her what this baby could do.
I double checked her seat belt and door, (I was excited to do a real passenger brief!) double checked final, made my radio call, and taxied across the hold short line. She grabbed the door handle. I centered the nose wheel on the runway centerline. She clenched her should strap. I gave a quick thumbs up and added power as smooth as ever. She breathed deep.
We lifted off into the air and climbed out at Vy +/- 1 knot. The air had a little wobble to it, but I gave a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the standard summer bumps that I was used to. I scanned for traffic conflicts, honed in on radio chatter, and began to execute my departure of the traffic pattern to the south. Oh man, my mom was NOT enjoying the ride! “Please go back.” was what I easily read from her lips since her mic boom was not down. I queried her request to its authenticity, but her eyes bore witness to the fact that the request was genuine. I quickly canceled my pattern departure announcement on CTAF and amended the call to be “staying in left closed traffic for 24”. I explained to my mom that given the circumstances, this was the quickest way I could have her on the ground and the most comfortable. I opened all the fresh air sources I could, explained that she should look far off on the horizon, and augmented my traffic pattern to ensure low bank angles would be required for the remaining legs.
We landed relatively smoothly for a sub 50hr private pilot, taxied in, completed checklists, and shut the plane down. Apologies came out from my mom, but also qualified the action that needed to be taken. While I didn’t disregard her, I tried to downplay the effect of her causing the flight to end prior to our allotted 1 hour while remaining polite but humorous.
16 years later, I still have not flown my mom in an airplane since, but consider her one of the most supportive people in my career as a pilot. Today, I fly Cessna business jets as Chief Pilot for a part 91 corporate flight department and even still during my prefights, I generally think back to a conversation that I had with my mom over dinner one night way back before I would begin the private pilot syllabus. It was over dinner and I asked my dad if we could order a missing bolt that helped secure the front axle on my motocross bike. I went on to say that I had noticed it a few days ago and forgot to ask. He agreed and said we’d find the part number and make it happen. My mom, however, knew that between the admitted mechanical issue being noticed and that dinner, I had ridden the bike, rode it hard in fact. She brought to light that with my impending pilot training on the horizon, I was exhibiting a trait that does not jive with aviation. It might fall inline with recklessness, laziness, or lack of common sense, but whatever the case, not healthy when mixed with airplanes. That drove straight home with me that night and I would work, and continue to work to eliminate that action from my everyday life, to include aviation.
I thank God for my mom and I know she realizes what an important role she has and will play in my life pursuit of the heavens.