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Pinch hitter

Whap! My instructor Bill reached over and gave Janet's hand a gentle but unmistakeable slap.

"Only one hand on the yoke!" Bill reminded her.

"Your instructor just hit your wife!" Janet called back to me in mock indignation. "Are you going to stand for that?"

I chuckled. "Today he's your instructor," I replied from the back seat. "I'm staying out of it!"

Janet had been accompanying me in my club's airplanes for several years and picked up a lot about the process of flying, but she didn't have much "stick time" yet. She wasn't ready to start working on a pilot certificate of her own, but she did want to understand more about how the airplane works in case she ever needed to take the controls. I suggested that we arrange with my instructor Bill for some "pinch-hitter" training for her.

"Sounds like fun!" she replied, so I scheduled with Bill and reserved a trusty Cessna 172.

My experience with Bill was instrument training, so it was interesting to watch him work with a beginning primary student. He led Janet through the basics of the flight controls, using the elevator trim, scanning for traffic, reading the flight instruments, eventually having her make a couple of low approaches as though setting up to land.

It was also great to see Janet starting to put things together. It was obvious when something "clicked" and she gained a new insight. I'd forgotten how quickly the learning process goes at the very beginning!

The value of pinch-hitter training is that it takes passengers from passive dependency in a foreign environment to familiarity and the beginnings of understanding. Firsthand experience of how the airplane's controls affect its movement, how to tune the radios, how to read the basic flight instruments forms the foundations for confidence—by definition, the "faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way" should the need arise.

In the car on the way home, we chatted animatedly about her experience.

"That was really fun!" Janet said. "I kinda freaked out when I saw the ground coming up on landing—but I feel like I could learn to do it."

"Of course you could," I replied. "I think you'd be very good at it. It's just a matter of practice."

We jabbered away for some time about airplanes and flying, gradually tapering off into a satisfied, contemplative silence.

"Thank you for becoming a pilot, honey," Janet said finally, giving my hand a squeeze.

"Thank you for that first glider ride!" I replied with a chuckle. "And thanks for supporting my flying all these years."

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