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Michelee Cabot

 

 

3 Axes (plural of axis)

 

Learning to fly – to maneuver an aircraft – isn’t hard, once you get it into your head that it’s nothing like a car.

 

A plane can be a slippery eel. It maddeningly wallows and bobs if you don’t remember it’s got three axes to slither around on. Happily, it has controls to manage all that. It’s all a battle with centrifugal force and the pull of gravity.

 

Axes. The three are Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.

The Pitch axis – an imaginary line that runs one side to the other through the plane, wingtip to wingtip. The nose goes down, the tail goes up, spinning around on that string. Scary ride.

The yaw axis? Picture the plane skewered on a flag pole, ground to sky, right through the middle. Where it can rotate on the horizontal, around and around, flat spinning parallel to the ground.  You see how pesky that could be?

 

Roll… the bead on the string line going through the plane front to back. Run amuck on that axis and you’d be like a screw drilling a hole through the sky.

A car is so different.   Your four-wheeled ride moves comfortably about on a flat plane. The ground. No actual roll, pitch, and yaw, the movements on the three axes of the airplane. Well, you can skid any old which-way if you get sloppy. It moves on the straight ahead one, shall we say the pitch axis. Throws you back when you accelerate. Throws you forward when you brake. The car tilts to the side when you turn it, the faster the turn the steeper the tilt. Naturally you lean sideways into that turn – countering that force, the centrifugal force.

You’re used to doing that on the ground – your body is trained. But now you’re not on the ground. In the airplane, a coordinated turn keeps you firmly erect, vertical, to your seat – no leaning. If you’re leaning, you must be slipping. Not good. You can always tell the newbie by the way they sag sideways when the plane turns – the tilted horizon they see cues them to do that. At first, from habit, you do too. But that’s silly. You do not feel any centrifugal force – that is, not if the turn is done right.

 

“Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate” was the muttered mantra.

Another thing. Your plane won’t back up, like a car. You have to work around that little handicap.

 

Alert. You’ll have to deal with a lot of “negative transfer”. It can be hilarious, it can be embarrassing. So often in the beginning days, when you’re parking your car say, at the grocery store? Or maybe at the watering hole… (At the “O” Club, Officers Club, military fighter pilots like my old friend “afterburner Art” were ever thumping backs and raising a glass to still being alive, after successfully rolling, pitching and yawing – dog-fighting – around the sky.)

 

So here you’re coming in for the “landing juice” (post-flight nip) to celebrate – or to settle your rattled nerves. Or scarf a burger, if food is your comfort thing. You roll into the parking place, checking outside the car, right and left, to make sure the wingtips will clear whatever is beside you – then give yourself a head-slap. No wings on the car, ninny. And when you fumble for the fuel/air mixture control to choke off your engine, you panic. Where’d it go?? That’s “negative transfer”.

Learning to fly is not easy, but it’s a fine challenge, and it’s fun. You can do it. Probably.

 

C150panel_(1)But before I could get into the air, I had to speak that Arabic numeral thing… the new language. He reached over, clicked on the radio, and twiddled a knob. We listened to a string of babbled numbers coming from the speaker. (The ATIS, automated terminal Information Service, telling us airport stuff.) And then he handed me the microphone. “Call Ground Control. Say who you are (aircraft ident), where you are (location on field), with the ATIS, and your intentions (what you want to do).” I took the mic numbly, looked at it, put it to my lips, and said “Hanscom Ground, November four seven 22 Foxtrot at the terminal, taxi for takeoff with the ATIS.” Oh believe me I didn’t do it like that right away – we had sat parked and practicing that, running through the script for at least 15 times before I could get it right. Stiff with fright, I wheezed and gasped out the transmission – and sank back in my seat. “Good,” he said, “Now let’s change the frequency off the ATIS  to transmit, and try again.” I could have hit him. So I gasped it all out again, and listened for Ground to talk back. None of which I could unravel.

Later back at the flight school counter, the guys’ eyes turned to me as we walked back in. “Wow” they said… “You sure sound sexy on the radio.” (Tower transmissions were loud-speakered in at the school.) Startled, baggy eyes looked me, and I at him. “That was a voice gripped by terror” he said. And chortled. And I laughed. Weakly.

The first timecolorful cessna

The moment I had fantasized, been dreaming about, anticipating with sweaty palms – had arrived. Two weeks before, my world had rocketed out of humdrum grey with a mere phone call.  I was poking around for a glider ride.  (Missed out on that during a ski vacation out west, and I really wanted to do it.) Midwinter, not much glider activity.  “You have your power license?” the man on the other end of the phone had asked. I was stunned, speechless.  Women fly! Women fly!  Not to overstate and get irreligious, but like Paul on the road to Tarsus, I right there experienced an epiphany.  “Why, no…” I said – and he responded with “Come on down for an introductory flight!”  OH yessss…

As I entered into this new world, I looked at the airspace around me.  Not empty.  Miles of cubic measures of atmosphere hummed invisibly with busy electrons… electrons passing along communications in strings of Arabic numerals – av-speak.  It was the language of aviation: aircraft identifications, compass headings, altitudes – rattled off by male voices (a female voice was an anomaly back then) and I had to learn to understand it, and to speak it. I was breathless. It was all bizarre gibberish, of course. In we had climbed, closed the doors and buckled our belts. The panel full of dials in front of me was puzzling, intimidating, marked with lots of numbers – not my forte. Never mind. We were going to fly! And I was at the controls. We had first done a walk-around outside with explanations of things like hinged wing ailerons, flaps and tail rudder. And I’d seen the tiny hole, static port, on the side – that senses the pressure of passing wind. It works along with air ramming into the Pitot tube to calculate airspeed (that hangs pointing forward from a wing, providing a hidey-hole for bugs… when not flying. So at rest – cover it up .) “Ok… Listen” said the middle-aged, obviously impatient, baggy-eyed instructor.  You think you wanna fly? Well then pay attention,” he barked. “Learn it right.” I chose not to be insulted. He explained the  enigmatic dials, especially the turn coordinator. “Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate” he said –“with the ailerons and rudder I showed ya, keep that little ball centered, make all your movements smooth and together to get a propah turn,” he rumbled.   “Use a light touch. Think fragile eggs. It will take lots of practice.” He continued. “To turn right, put some pressure on the right rudder with your right foot, and, with hands on the yoke at the same time, tilt it a bit to the right. When you get the aircraft turning like you want, stabilize its position – take the pressures off foot and yoke…. Now you’re what we call ‘established in the turn.’ See that little ball there? Keep it in the middle.” He pointed to a small round window showing a needle at its bottom that swung left and right, with a ball in the center at its base. The turn coordinator. (In principal, the ball worked like a carpenter’s level.) “But also pull back a little bit on the yoke” he said.

(Yolk? Looked to me like a half steering wheel). “The turn adds weight to the plane, so it wants to sink. It’s physics. You know – centrifugal force.” I only knew centrifugal force from driving around a curve too fast.  I nodded, “Right, ok.” Oh no… I’m supposed to understand and do this? I can’t fake it! Slippery little weasel, that plane… wobbling, bobbling and weaving up and down, all over the sky as I over-controlled everything. I laughed at the erratic performance.

Some would have vomited.

He peered at me and said, “It’s not a car! It operates on all the dimensional planes, like a fish – not just the flat one we walk on.” “Right,” I nodded wisely. I could look wise. I had to learn about yaw – the nose’s back and forth action on the vertical axis, that imaginary line up and down through the center of the plane, like a weather vane.  Yaw, then, was a back and forth motion eliminated by rudder pressures. And I had to learn to control unwanted pitch, the upsy-downsies of the nose on the horizontal axis (line reaching across the plane, wingtip to wingtip) – often caused by panicked fingers clutching the yoke, pulling it toward you. (Well, you have to hold it up don’t you, to keep it from falling?) And the roll… the danged roll, action around the axis that goes from the nose to the tail. A bead spinning on a string, if you will. No spinning please on any of those three axes. We don’t want rolls, spins, or plunges.  (Not till you take up aerobatics…) So we learned about control surfaces, and the fine points of pressures, and skids and slips. Oooofff.

You know about practice?  They call it, in lesson-speak, the Law of Frequency.  It does make perfect. So learn it right.

Lettuce Free Salad?

salad no lettuce 2

Hard to fathom, but there are people in this world who really don’t like lettuce. When they order their juicy cheeseburgers, it’s “hold the lettuce.” The same for any sandwich, even the iconic Club. And when they’re served unrequested side salads (unless spinach of course), they mine it for extraneous items like tomatoes – leaving behind the lettuce, rejected, wilting on the plate. My husband is a lettuce-loather. Sees no reason for it. But these days, fluffy lettuce salads come flaunting wonderful additions like raisins, pine nuts, slices of bell peppers, carrots julienned, grated cheese… Even meats. The fluffy lettuce, of course, being the vehicle to transport goodies into our inner selves. (Who doesn’t know that?)

avocado petals

avocado scoops, petals

So how to get these palate picky people to enjoy your salads? Create one without lettuce. One of chilled florets of cauliflower, broccoli, slivered colorful bell peppers –and of course, tomatoes. Those raisins and pine nuts. Even a handful of pecans festooning the top. But the way to lure all this into their gullets, is with a gleaming luscious dressing, a dressing that pops out the vibrant colors of your art. One with a tiny bit of zip, one that will tease the palate into one forkful after another. And don’t forget topping it off with curls, or petals, of avocado (accomplished by a judicious scooping out with a spoon – so quick and easy). Some don’t like avocado. If the slices are not mixed in, just fanning out atop the artwork, they can be pawned off to dining companions, the aficionados. My husband doesn’t like them, nor does he condone the use of cucumber. My father wouldn’t eat those either – said they gave him the “burning burps.” So the cukes are up to you. I find them weak in this combo.

But don’t eschew the avocados or “alligator pears” (southern speak). They are soooo good, and so good for you. Just ring or top the salad with them.

Here’s my dressing suggestion to start you off:

½ Cup good orange juice; ¼ Cup red wine or rice vinegar ( – or a mix thereof); 1/4 C cold pressed olive oil; 2 T ketchup; 1 T mustard; 1 T honey; optional dash of tabasco; several very thin slices of red onion; 1 T dried tarragon. Salt and pepper. Add a bit of water if it needs thinning or extending.  If OJ unavailable,  no worries.  You can use lemon juice or more vinegar, to make the oil-to-vinegar proportions to your liking.

Mix all this up, sample it and adjust to your own preference. Let it sit and chill and meld for a bit in the refrigerator, before drizzling it onto to your heaping mélange of crudités (for the uninitiated, the French word for raw veggies). This salad, unlike the lettuce ones, can be dressed way ahead of time, and kept chilled.

This would sub for cooked vegetables, on the plate – colorful, easy, and toothsome.

In the past, vegetables occupied what they called “the quiet corner” of the plate. No more. Carnivores might even dig into this beauty first!

“JEEZ, DON’T GROUND-LOOP IT!”

 

“Jeez! – don’t let it ground-loop!!!” Shrinking from the baggy-eyed bully as he grabbed the controls, I glared at him. “Hey wait, dammit – ground loop?!” He relaxed his grip as we rolled out, giving me back the rudder to steer the wheels (and the yoke to manage the ailerons). And explained. Quietly. He got hold of himself. “A ground-loop is an un-commanded sudden spin-around on the runway, possibly yanking us off of it and wreaking havoc with dipping scraping, wingtips – caused by after you’ve got the plane aligned straight to the runway – the wheels still are not.” Cigarette Breath frowned at me. “Your car can’t crab-sidle down the street, can it? Neither can the plane. Straighten the rudder to straighten the wheels, babe, use your feet to straighten the rudder!” It had been a cross-wind landing – the wind was blowing in a bit from the side; I was learning how to handle that. We had been to another airport to do some learning… there breezes had been directly on our nose. He always liked to go where he could buy a hamburger, to indulge his pot belly. My lessons appeared to be his transportation to said burger joints. I was disgruntled. At least I liked them too – juicy ones.

Well – the wind seemed always to be drifting in from the side. Crosswind landings are a critical part of the flight lesson syllabus. Do you crab? (angle the plane to point into the wind as you descend on final approach to the touchdown point, then last second rudder the plane straight to put wheels to the concrete), or do you slip it? (cross-control the ailerons so the craft slices down through its descent to touchdown, kind of like a knife leaning on its edge) and tip-toe the touch-down with wheels straight – the wheel into the wind touching first? I chose crabbing and didn’t straighten out in time, so grumpy Bubba grabbed the controls. Good thing. In time I developed the right technique. I learned so well that for my Flight Exam I had to find a runway with a crosswind. Almost couldn’t land in a direct headwind. Those were the days. In fact, in the earliest days of aviation, planes used pastures. There were no runways per se. One could always head directly into the wind. Crosswind landing? No such thing.

But that ground-loop. A friend who was taking lessons with me did one, on solo (by herself), scared herself right witless and never went back to the airport. Ahhh, she shouldn’t have been flying anyway, if a little sudden whip-circling on the runway could scare her off. Yes, she could have been hurt. Nobody said you couldn’t get hurt, doing this. “If it cain’t kill you, it ain’t a sport.”

Oh, the ground can indeed rise up and smite you. You have to learn not to let it, to earn the glories of flight.

In Memoriam, to a wonderful father

(Excerpt from Fly Over Down Under)

Daddy Gen.1946 – WW II is over… we are joining my father in Luzon. The transport ship pulled in to dock at destination Manila. A brass band played with great gusto and feeling, “Kiss me once, and kiss me twice.”  Next line of that song is “It’s been a long, long, time.” And so it had. We pressed against the railing, eagerly scanning the crowd, the pier so full of army caps, shouting and waving. The arriving dependents were busy spotting husbands and fathers, the men anxiously peering up to find sweethearts and children. I spied mine right away, intense and handsome, his face joyful at seeing us. Off the ship we rushed into his welcoming arms. I was surprised… a few little guys were quite terrified by these men their mommies were hugging – they hadn’t seen them in so long they didn’t recognize them! Probably they had been babes in arms at their last encounter. Or waiting to hatch? So there I was, sitting behind my pilot Dad, riding over the China Sea out of dad open cockpit-001Luzon in a rackety single engine reconnaissance plane, tandem seating. We ventured out to see the relics of his war, a few sunken warship hulks pointing their dead black hulls from sea to sky… I said how huge they were. Dad growled, you should see the parts under water. I was so young – but he must have wanted me to see that, and to remember.

R.I.P., Daddy.  I remember.

 

Flying.

Something for birds and boys, right? That’s what my parents’ world had me think. (Daddy was the flyer…. We were nee the Army Air Corps, then the US Air Force.)  I believed that – until one day, way into my own grown-up life, somebody said “Naw, we don’t do gliders. But – you have your power license?” (What??? Women fly?…Holy cow. Women fly!!)

I had been intently searching the yellow pages, fruitlessly phoning around for a glider ride in the middle of a deep Massachusetts winter.   I’d been to Aspen to ski, and my hustling ski instructor had promoted a Sunday glider ride – he was selling them, also being a glider instructor. I had been quite fired up for that – soaring over the Rockies! Sunday brought a perfectly crystal clear day, but Saturday night at Rocky Mountain altitudes the thermometer had bottomed out at -40F below zero… And at 10 in the morning temps had only risen to -20 in dazzling crystal clear air. We were miserably frozen out of our rendezvous with soaring. Couldn’t chip or chisel out the glider, couldn’t start the tow plane. My disappointment was stupidly huge – and that surprised me.

So back at home in my warm living room, I was intently on a quest. I glanced behind me to see if this voice at the other end was actually talking to me, the question was so unexpected… What on earth? A power license? What, like an airplane? Me, fly???  What an epiphany. A revelation. The world was not at all as I had believed. As this flight school rep on the other end of the line was saying I should “Come on down, have an introductory lesson!” I knew that I was going to fly.

It was during the heyday of VA benefits, and many returning soldiers were using theirs to learn to fly… I had to wait for two long weeks for my first lesson.   By the time I was actually rolling down a runway and lifting off, I was rampode to get airborne.

I hoped the wait had been worth it.

 

I was wiggling my toes deep under the covers, feeling the cool sheets after the hot summer day. Ahhh. There are pleasures you never tire of, and that end of day bliss in your safe harbor is one.

The phone rang, putting a shrill end to our bedtime’s peace and calm. It was past 10:30, we were cozied down, ready to drift off with books propped comfortably for reading.   Hal had answered, and passed the phone to me with pithy mutterings… A tear-choked voice quavered in my ear. A pitiful wail cried “Aunt Michelee, I’m in Newark… my plane to the Vineyard just took off early without me!”

Our niece had found herself abandoned at the dead-quiet Newark NJ airport, its day’s activities mostly over and done – not the best place for an unescorted pretty young woman to be, late at night. Frightened and alone, left behind by an impatient pilot who decided to cut a corner and leave a few minutes early. (Shamefully, that used to happen; wily travelers always stuck close to the departure gate just in case) “Don’t worry, lamb chop,” I said – “Sit tight. We’ll fly down and get you. We’ll be there in a couple of hours.”

Groaning, we threw on clothes, grabbed up our son (last kid still at home), tooled down the road to our trusty little 4-seat Cessna at the local airport. It was charmingly rural, our sweet airstrip. We could park on the roadside, step through brambles, and quickly access our mamabird. Those were the days, pre-terrorists and major security fences. In no time we were airborne, marveling at the fantasy of lights passing below, against the inky background of earth.

Boston’s twinkling lights slid past on our left… soon the New York megalopolis edged into the horizon, Connecticut’s distant shoreline marking the Atlantic and thence Long Island Sound. We were with Air Traffic Control by now, receiving compass-heading instructions as we approached the city from the northeast. At this hour, nearly midnight, he was working a slack load. Most airlines and certainly little guys like us were already down and put away. So when he said, as we came down the Hudson River, “Turn right at the statue” he was bored and ready. “(Yumpah-dee-dah…) What statue ?” I asked. “The Statue of Liberty (his tone said ‘you dimwit’).” Hey – she wasn’t so prominent at night. But soon her raised torch beckoned the way, and we hummed towards the big lights of EWR. And now came the hard part.

The tower cleared us to land, and with the grumpy help of Ground Control (stressful New Jersey air traffic can exhaust their nerves) we idled along through the dark outdoors of the nearly vacant giant airport to the puddle jump airline serving MVY.

The story ends well. We gathered up our grateful niece, flew her back to our home via the stunning Hudson River departure procedure from NYC – with the low altitude safety restriction through there to keep us below the airlines’ JFK, LGA, and EWR’s approaches and departures, we got quick peeks into apartments as we wended our way out and away (always over the river, never over city buildings). Final instructions from EWR tower had been: “Turn left at the Statue and contact Departure.” Again the illuminated roadmaps of civilization spread out before us as we climbed onto our course, lights gradually thinning out into the black forests of rural sleeping CT.   Soon we were clicking on the pilot-controlled runway lights at home base – and rolling out. Next day we arose late and whisked our lamb chop to the Vineyard. It was all good.

Of course she had to bear intense family teasing for missing her flight. Her mother was having fits about the imposition on us. They don’t get it, do they, the goggle-eyed ground-huggers? When adventure calls, we leap! Flying the New York Corridor into Newark at midnight and beyond?

OH, yesssss…

“Lawsa, Miz Morgan, dat chile is lahk a lambs-tail in fly time, dartin’ all ovah dat yahd!!”  That was my beloved black nanny Dolly, patient and tender, who still lives in my heart. Love doesn’t know color, when you’re a child.  She would shield me from sadness “Oh dat kitty jes’ gone to kitty town” when my pet died…  She was goodness in a ruffled bonnet, a gentle soul in a combative world.

The blacks of my childhood had a language tapestry rich in expressions pale white folk talk couldn’t come close to.  When my Texas great-grandmother’s housekeeper announced she was leaving her husband, a long-suffering man, a man the maid had sniffed at and pronounced “no-‘count” – Mamacita asked “Do you really want to do that, Sally?”

Sally responded, “Yes’m. I done packed my bag and packed my mind.”   It doesn’t get clearer than that.

And maybe those early words “fly-time” echoed in my dreams as the years spun out. I can yet hear the faint zip-up sound of my daddy’s B4 bag in that predawn darkness, down the hallway. It was wartime, and he was quietly leaving us in the cozy warmth of our safe beds to ready himself and others for air-to-air combat, the fight to possible death for our cherished freedoms. That part was meaningless to me, a 4-year-old – But I understood about flying. My first words were “airplane” and “Hello world.” Each day before breakfast he would carry me from my bed to the window, point to the outdoors and call out “Hello world.” What a sweet way to learn, no?

flying tigerHe once took me down way off behind Wright Field’s flight line to see a friend who came in with a Flying Tiger, something the gown ups spoke of in hushed tones of respect, even awe. The plane and pilot’s presence seemed to be a secret Daddy was sharing with me. I stood rigid under the viciously painted nose and peered up at it. It was huge, ugly, and certainly evilly unfriendly – it was a sight made to terrify the enemy’s attack aircraft. I remember how I felt. Overwhelmed – and wary. So those lurid fangs at least terrified small children. Anyway, my dad was clearly crestfallen that his busy little tree-climber was made timid by that bloody shark – and by his friend. Daddy, of course, found it thrillingly magnificent. Funny – I still remember the young face of his pilot friend, oddly dressed in civvies. Years afterward I found out what heroes those volunteers of Claire Chennault’s had been.

The Flying Tigers, P-40s, were flown out of China where they were repaired as needed, manned by men mostly gleaned from the United States Army Air Corps. What ever was this one doing in Ohio?  “Why” was never shared.  But my father clearly wanted me to see it – and to remember. No other children were taken to that hidden place tucked in behind other parked airplanes, on the backside of the hangars. I was told not to mention it. My mother had not wanted him to show me, and she also told me not to speak of it.

So I didn’t.

sticky date puddingFor me, one of the finest pleasures of travel comes at the table. Way beyond those $100 hamburgers we pilots are infamous for sniffing out at airports, across the sweeping landscapes of the USA. Though I bloom with the excitement of new sights, gustatory delights are simply a requirement for me.

As a ’50s teen I was sent to lectures at Paris’s Cordon Bleu cooking school (sadly, no scribbled notes are left – they were in my lousy french made-up shorthand anyway). My mother saw that she wasn’t going to keep me from nosing out delicacies from the patisseries and boulangeries, so she figured she might as well give me tools to make my own. As it happened, la chef des chefs Julia Child was there at the same time, learning to become the illustrious chef JULIA CHILD – and I would love to say that we met, but we didn’t, not then. I was a kid. Later on, though, I worked for her as a lowly unpaid volunteer on her television program – setting the table, ironing her blouse, watching her assemble French fantasies, and finally slurping them up after the shoot with the rest of the crew. (That was the pay.) So my palate was prepped for ferreting out the best of the best, wherever life took me, in the years to come. And I am going to share some recipes.

Let’s start with Australia’s over-the-top Sticky Date Toffee Pudding…

This absolutely had us on our knees, in the seaside town of Geelong.

1  heaping Cup of DATES, dried, pitted, & coarsely chopped into chunks.  Dry ingredients: 1 tsp baking soda, 6 oz. sifted self-rise flour, ¾ C brown sugar (or more); 2 T butter (unsalted or salted) 2 large eggs. (Preheat oven to 375F.)  Combine dates and baking soda in heatproof bowl. Pour 1 C boiling water over this date mixture, set aside till room temp. Cream butter and sugar in big bowl till pale – add eggs one at a time, beat till smooth. Fold in flour, stir in date mix along with the water. Pour into greased and floured 8” deep cake pan, bake 30-45 minutes till cooked through – set it aside a bit before gently plopping it out onto a plate. Cut into whatever size pieces you wish… but it usually serves 8.

TOFFEE SAUCE: ¾+ C brown sugar, 1 C cream, ½ tsp vanilla, 2 T butter (unsalted best).  Combine ingredients over low heat, stir till butter melts. Simmer 5 minutes. Serve hot, over squares of pudding.

Serves 8, takes an hour to make. I think you’ll like it.

Another thing… Whipped cream can take it to another level.