Adam’s Cardinal is winging us into a dazzling sunrise. Over his shoulder I read airspeed 110 knots, heading 40. He trims the pitch a fraction of a degree by flicking his thumb. You can practically hear the organic chemistry in his brain: pitch level vertical horizon freq pitch NAV1 pitch set VOR squawk 1200 level throttle pitch correct.
I look at the dashboard of N30304. The blue vinyl has cracked and withered from years of wind and sun. The gas gauge has a bit of masking tape on it. Adam has manually recalibrated the gauge so when the gauge says half full, it?s really got a full tank. The plane is almost exactly as old as me. The engine farts and growls and picks us up.
“We’re going to be plenty early getting to the RZ camp,” he says. Adam is thin and sharp featured, and his voice is soft and staccato. He speaks in the clipped, precise grammar of the Silicon Valley alpha geek. “We have the time and fuel. Would you like to try some maneuvers?”
“Maneuvers? As in loops and rolls?” I ask.
“Sure,” says Adam. “I’m instrument rated. I’m legal to fly in all sorts of meteorological conditions. That?s where the VFR pilots get themselves into trouble. They get into a cloudbank, and then their inner ears tell them they’re flying straight and level. And they get out of the bank and the earth and the sky have switched places, and they’re doing a slow spiral towards earth. Bad news, most definitely.”
“Sounds like bad news,” I say. “Hey, is that the Great Mall of America down there?”
Adam tips the airplane thirty degrees to the right and looks over my shoulder. My nose hits the windshield and I let out a syllable.
“No, that’s not the Great Mall,” he says, righting the plane.
“You’re not really going to do any rolls, are you?” I ask.
“Darn, I forgot to secure my bag in back. Can?t roll right now. But you know, the Cardinal is quite a stable plane for other sorts of maneuvers.” Adam pushed in the throttle and the engine reduced speed to a low rumble. “Now, consider this low-speed flying situation. You see that our air speed is reduced to ninety. Now eighty. And there it goes, that’s the stall alarm, you hear that warning horn? And so you don?t have enough lift on the wings, and so the plane quite literally falls out of the sky–”
My heart hits my chin. The vertical speed indicator shows we are dropping at fifteen feet per second. In ten seconds, we drop twenty-five stories.
Adam gingerly pushes the throttle. The Cardinal coughs and clutches at the air. The airspeed picks up to one hundred.
“Adam, I’m actually a bit afraid of flying?”
“Oh, me too,” said Adam. “I don’t like to do the dangerous stuff. I’m a total wuss.”