Today’s guest blog is by my friend Nancy S.Kyme, author of Memory Lake, an incredibly profound and beautifully written story about summer camp, mothers and daughters and coming of age, among other things. Nancy is presently at work on an alternate world trilogy that promises to be very different from Memory Lake, but of equal quality. Here’s a delightful sample of her work:
Dan, thank you for having me as your guest blogger. Because you are publishing an incredibly well-written and engaging series about a WWII B-17 pilot, based on meticulously researched facts, I’m supposing your readers would enjoy a true flying story. Buckle your seat belts and note the nearest emergency exit, keeping in mind that it might be in front of you:
The Third Solo
Practicing a stall is frightening. I thought this, but I did not say it. “You have to know what to do in an emergency,” Larry, my flight instructor said, as if reading my mind. “If your stall turns into a spin, remember, full throttle, full right rudder, punch down on the stick.” I said it with him. I had said it in my car. I have said it in my sleep. “And, trust your instruments,” he added, in parting, just before I yelled “Clear” out the window of the Cessna 152 and turned the key. The engine, my new best friend, roared to life. I talked to the tower, my second best friend, and taxied to the advised runway.
It was my third solo. It was 1979. I was twenty. Alone in the sky! California’s San Joaquin Valley stretched below me. I glimpsed Yosemite Lake to the east before turning west. I soared over Highway 99 leading south to Fresno and north to Castle AFB and Modesto. I aimed for the non-populated geometric shapes of agriculture and their genies of smoke. The rice fields were burning. It was a common practice at the time to burn the rice straw into the soil to prevent disease. On the ground, the smoke was overwhelming, smelly, and confusing. In the air, it gathered into neat ponytails as it climbed the sky and soon I soared high above the plumes. I got ready to practice a stall.
I gripped the throttle and eased it toward me until the plane entered slow flight. The engine quieted and the plane struggled to stay aloft. I gripped the stick with both hands, (more of a small steering wheel), and tugged it toward my chest, to raise the nose, because the nose wanted to fall toward the ground. I sat tall. The plane and I felt unstable. I strained against my seat belt and watched my instruments.
Technically, the plane was difficult to control at such a slow speed as I maintained a balance between pitch, power, aileron, and rudder inputs, instrument interpretation, flap management, and an eye outside. Altogether, it was more to remember than when taking a golf shot. But, just like golf, it came down to a feeling. When the needle of the airspeed indicator entered the stalling range, I felt the plane slip. I felt the weightlessness of a spin. I hung on as the altimeter spun out of control. My head hit the window. The view outside displayed a skewed horizon, then smoke. Amid the slow motion of gravity’s tug, I reached for the throttle. With an open palm I slammed it to the dashboard. The engine roared to life. I stomped my right foot on the rudder. I punched down on the stick and understood why Larry had deliberately used the word ‘punch’. It took all my strength, in a burst of speed, to knock it down, to keep it there, and to keep my foot on the rudder. It was a battle against speed and gravity and rational thought. As I plummeted to the ground, my mind argued for me to pull back on the stick to raise the nose. Luckily, my body knew to go against it, (Larry had said it plenty of times), and the rush of adrenaline gave me the unnatural strength to carry it out.
I gradually felt the plane return to level flight. My instruments confirmed it. I initiated a climb through the pungent white smoke. I breathed a sigh of relief to return to my allowed elevation. I thought about what I may have done wrong during the stall to cause the spin. I realized how easily I could have flown into the ground. As I replayed the entire episode, I grew unaware of the present moment and my exact heading, and realized too late, the sky had socked in around me.
Either the ponytails of smoke had come unfurled, or a sudden temperature inversion had caused a thick fog. I was a VFR (visual) pilot caught in IFR (instrument) conditions. I could not see anything but white. I grabbed the mike and talked to the tower. My nearest runway was Castle Air Force Base, where my husband was stationed. I had flown out of Merced Muni, a few miles south, and now flew north into Castle’s air space. Merced Muni directed me to change my frequency to their tower. A frighteningly official, deep, male voice instantly spoke to me. He methodically fired off orders for me to land immediately at the AFB. I studied my instruments, adjusted speed and heading, and followed his rapid succession of instructions. When I verbally responded, I tried not to sound like a shrill, panicked woman. He talked me through my downwind leg, base, then final. I cut the power for landing. I floated below the fog and finally spied black asphalt and the broken white line. I almost cried because I could take it from here. I saw where to land. I gently touched down. The tower directed me to ground frequency and I taxied to a place of embarrassment and humiliation. For, truly I don’t remember what happened next. Neither does my husband, whose embarrassment would outlive mine because of the teasing from his fellow officers. I suppose we left the plane there, drove home, and Larry returned for it the next day, also embarrassed and humiliated because I was his student. I should not have entered the base’s air space. I should not have gotten caught in zero visibility.
I did return to the sky many more times, but I never had another spin, nor did I ever perform another landing at an Air Force Base. I did have another IFR landing at the South Bend, Indiana airport, while VFR rated, during a lightning storm, with my husband, but that’s another story.
Back to you, Dan.I’m Nancy S. Kyme, the author of “Memory Lake, the Forever Friendships of Summer” a 2012 Next Generation Award Winning memoir. When childhood friends plan to meet at a camp reunion thirty years after their adventures together at summer camp, a fun, inspirational journey begins in which the reader is immersed into summer, youth, and the warmth of meaningful friendships. Present day challenges and past outdoor adventures are woven into an unforgettable tale of friends overcoming fear and grief through joy and laughter. Some informative links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Air_Force_Base http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2000/10/09/daily20.html?page=all