In The Beginning God Created A Citabria


N5032G.  That’s where it all started.  At Reid Hillview Airport in East San Jose, California, in the year 1987.

Joe was my instructor and he was merciless.  On my second lesson Joe commanded that I keep my feet on the rudder pedals and keep the plane going straight as we took off; it was horrifying. At first, it was benign and we went straight; but Joe raised the tail quickly; we surged to the left.  The grass raced at us from the left of the runway and I responded with too much right rudder; then the grass raced up from the right.  Joe mercifully lifted us off at this point but the damage was done; I was a basket case and couldn’t tell you what we did for the rest of that lesson.  A few weeks later, Joe felt that I did not fully appreciate the capabilities of this fully aerobatic 115 horsepower rocket ship; so he climbed a few thousand feet and demonstrated a three turn spin; I had a headache for the rest of the day.

I learned a lot in 32G including a healthy respect for the wind.  Or you might say that I had the crap scared out of me.  I started my lessons in March and it took almost a year before I finally got my license.  During that first year somehow I managed to schedule all of my lessons on days when there was no wind; that was terribly unfortunate.  Shortly after I was licensed I awoke one day to severe clear weather in the San Francisco bay area, visibility was unlimited.  It was a great day for flying; the fact that the wind was blowing 25 gusting to 35, albeit it straight down the runway, didn’t seem to matter one iota.  Something was different from the moment I took off; the plane seemed to climb much steeper; it didn’t feel right.  And there were the bumps-lots of bumps.  But that was only the beginning.  As I paralleled  a ridge line,  I ran into severe turbulence; the right wing pitched up 60 degrees knocking the stick from my hand.  After quickly recovering my few remaining wits, I retreated to the airport and managed to get the plane back on the ground on the second try. That episode instilled such fear that I would not fly in wind exceeding 10 knots; and, if I hit bumps, I froze, even when I was a passenger on a commercial airliner; it took nineteen years for me to shake it off.

But I learned a lot.  Today, I cannot believe that I did my mandatory cross country flights using only a sectional, an E6B, a watch and the compass. The VOR in 32G didn’t even work; well it did work a little but the To-From flag was broken; it was only useful if you already knew where you were located. But eventually I had finished all the required training and passed the private pilot check ride; I was a newly minted pilot and the Citabria was my magic carpet to adventure.

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