She must have walked by the tiny children’s play table a hundred times, muttering something under her breath. My wife Patty was stressed. Laid out on the table was a color poster of the cockpit of a Citation CJ3. Patty would soon have to land one all by herself in a full-motion simulator, courtesy of FlightSafety Textron Aviation Training (FSTAT) in Wichita.
I had convinced her that in my new role as Director of Programs and Safety Education for CJP, I needed a guinea pig. We needed to see how a non-pilot would handle the stress if the pilot passed out.
Landing the plane by herself had only become important in the last few years. For the first 38 years of our marriage, she told me that if I died in the cockpit, she would just die with me.
That’s true love.
Then we had grandkids.
“Good luck to you,” she offered. “But I want to live to see Hayden and Evelyn.” And so, she took a couple of one-hour courses in my Mustang and CJ1+ to experience landing from the right seat.
But this event was something very different. She would be required to do everything by herself. Her simulator instructor would become incapacitated at just the worst time.
Patty would be on her own.
She hadn’t been in a cockpit with Collins Pro Line 21 avionics in 10-plus years. “Don’t worry,” I urged. “It’s just like riding a bicycle.” She gave me that “you’re full of crap” look that I have seen so many times. She walked by that tiny table constantly for 30 days.
Patty convinced her non-pilot friend Bonnie Tria to go with us to Wichita so both could attempt to survive the ordeal. First was a three-hour ground school. FSTAT Director of Training, Jack Tessmann, explained that the simulator event would be fun for all.
Patty and Bonnie exchanged unbelieving looks.
Then, off to the simulator. CJ3 instructor, Rusty Owen, carefully explained how each system operated while this reporter sat in the back with several instructors monitoring. No one was sure if Patty and Bonnie could pull it off.
For over an hour, Rusty’s kind voice reassured them as he demonstrated turns, autopilot use, checklists and how to communicate with ATC.
During Bonnie’s session, Rusty suddenly “passed out.” Now Bonnie, all alone, had to save the day. But first, she shook Rusty violently one last time and yelled, “Rusty, before you die, I have one more autopilot question!” The guys in the back held their laughter in check. Bonnie did great, and we all walked away from the landing.
During Patty’s session, we heard a rapid beep, beep, beep warning. “That’s the overspeed warning,” she said. Rusty looked straight at me and asked, “How do you know that, Patty?”
“Oh, I hear it when David flies,” she replied.
I did not hear any laughter in the back of the simulator.
On a five-mile final, Patty hand-flew the CJ3 to an almost perfect touchdown on Wichita’s Runway 1R. Immediate applause broke out, and high fives waved throughout the simulator. Patty and Bonnie said exactly the same six words as they coasted to a stop.
“I want to do this again!”
I think our male pilot egos are missing out on just how valuable our companions can be in the cockpit. Times are changing. And I think we are going back to Wichita soon.