Saturday, June 24, 2006

Introducing Children to Flying

Today I made a short flight to introduce my twin 3-year olds, Catherine and Elisabeth, to flying. (It's never too early to be exposed to the joy of flight, I figured, and besides, I wanted a "dry run" where we weren't going anywhere to practice the practical matters of putting the double stroller into the back of the airplane, strapping the child safety seats into the back seat, etc.)

I figured once around the pattern was plenty, and to make things as close to what they would be on a real flight (either a day trip or a vacation trip), as possible, I used the same aircraft as I'd flown to New England in April, 923DM.

But, I hadn't figured on the way the twins would react. Arriving at the airport, we went out to the aircraft parking area with the children on leashes to keep them under control and away from any whirling propellers (see first picture).

The next step was to maneuver the stroller into the cargo compartment. It was a somewhat snug fit; I think if we'd had other luggage the stroller would have had to go in first, and other baggage would have had to be maneuvered in rather carefully. I doubt if any aircraft smaller than a 182 would have swallowed the stroller with any room left over for luggage. My flight bag lived on the floor behind the front seats.

Next we put the baby seats into the aircraft. The Cessna 182 has no rear door, unlike, say, the Bonanza A36, but the front seats slide so far forward that it doesn't matter that the seatbacks don't tilt forward as far as on a 2-door car. There are no LATCH hardpoints on the airplane, so we just used the built-in rear seat belts to secure the car seats.

Next, we put the twins into the seats and strapped them in, and it was at this point that unforeseen problems showed up. Even though Catherine knows what an airplane is, and excitedly says "Airplane! Airplane!" whenever she sees one in flight, she has only been in one motor vehicle in her life: the family minivan, a Mazda MPV. I once let her climb into the back seat of our other car, but never strapped her in as if to go anywhere, and apparently this seemed like a terrifying prospect, even though to me the interior of a Cessna is not too different from that of a car. Not so to a 3-year old. They immediately started screaming (photo 2). Catherine is the one in the foreground, on the port side of the sirplane, screaming the loudest. With Nancy, my wife, soothing them almost continuously, we managed to survive the preflight.

Then it was engine start -- triggering a fresh series of screams, as they had calmed down somewhat after we were all in our seats. We taxied to the runup area and (with headsets on) the adults couldn't really hear the screams, but Nancy assures me they were quite upset by the runup. Taxiing onto the runway didn't seem to upset them. Photo 3 shows the takeoff roll. Conditions were ideal, with 10 knots of wind straight down Runway 22 at Easton.

We did one circuit of the pattern, finding visibility slightly hazy at pattern altitude, but still adequate to get this view of the field from downwind (Photo 4). Runway 22 has right traffic to keep airplanes away from downtown Easton, so the airplane is flying to the left of the picture, which was taken by Nancy in the copilot's seat. Hangars are in the foreground, and the terminal and aircraft parking apron are on the left middle, near the approach end of Runway 22. After the picture was taken, we turned right twice to align ourselves with this runway and land on it. There is a second runway, 33, that's almost at right angles to 22-4, out of the picture to the right.

I couldn't hear the screaming from the back seat; apparently, Catherine screamed practically the whole time, but Elisabeth screamed only a few times.

Once on the ground -- it was quite a good landing, extremely short, so I made the first turn-off -- with the throttle back to idle, I could hear Catherine screaming again. This time, it might have been because we hadn't opened the windows immediately after taxiing off the runway, and it was too hot for her in the back of the airplane where there is little air circulation, especially on the ground.

As we got out of the plane, Elisabeth started clapping. She doesn't talk yet, and to her, clapping means she wants "more". "More airplanes?" Nancy asked, and Elisabeth nodded. When asked the same question, even after we'd returned home, Catherine said "No."

So far, Catherine had seemed the more interested in flight. But, Elisabeth seems to be the more adventurous. Catherine was willing to wear a headset at home (we didn't dare try putting it on her in the airplane). Elisabeth wouldn't even tolerate the thing on her head at home. But, if and when we take them flying again, my guess is Elisabeth will walk cheerfully out to the plane on her own, while Catherine will have to be carried. You can never tell.

But, it's not many 3-year olds who have already had a ride around the pattern in an airplane!


Blogger Ellie said...

Wow, Steve... what a great write-up!

I remember being about 3 and going with my mother in someone else's car. No carseats back then, and I sat in her lap. I remember crying... the friend's just didn't feel right, didn't smell right, didn't sound right, didn't move right... the motion was all different from our own car. I don't remember if I cried the whole ride, or how long it was, or anything about it, other than we went in someone else's car and although I sat in my mother's lap I cried because THIS IS NOT OUR CAR!!!!!

(I'm Nancy's friend Ellie who visited you when I was there for ChesapeakeMan last fall.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger *jeanne* said...

You're a brave man!

Sunday, June 25, 2006 2:57:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Toby said...

Thanks, Ellie, maybe that's the explanation. It was obvious right away that there was something I didn't understand going on in their minds.

Coincidentally, my first ride in a private airplane was also in the back seat of a Cessna 182, in 1979, when a buddy from the office took me along on his checkout flight. It was a much scarier flight, going out of Dulles to Manassas for three circuits of the pattern. It was so turbulent that as we were approaching Manassas I felt sure I would be sick. The airplane, like 923DM, was a nice new one at the time and I searched frantically for a sick sack and couldn't find one (pockets in the back of the front seats, etc). It was just about then that the main gear thumped onto the pavement and the engine was quiet enough that I could make my distress known. I managed not to throw up in the nice new 182.

Sunday, June 25, 2006 9:31:00 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

who can ever understand what's going on in the minds of children!? I wonder if any ear problems were happening...probably not since the screaming started before you left....
you ARE a brave man, but good for you! That's not the last time you'll be doing something they will be glad of only AFTER the fact! (sometimes, it will be YEARS after!) :)

Sunday, June 25, 2006 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mojo said...

First, you sound as smart as Nancy. Do you two sit around and talk nuclear science at dinner? :)

The leashes are a great idea. I saw parents in Europe using them all the time. I never see them in the US.

Very interesting Elisabeth was calmer about the flight. She doesn't seem to be crying hard in the picture either. Do you think she'd wear the headset now since she saw you wearing it? Maybe she'll turn out to be your crazy triathlete that will swim in riptides. :)

Monday, June 26, 2006 7:18:00 AM  

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