A writer spreads his wings

by Gus Lubin

The Liberty XL2 looks like a flying sports car: aerodynamic white metal curves and burgundy trim, a five-foot propeller and long, white wings.

The opportunity to fly such a plane — much less any plane — comes cheap and easy at several Triad flight schools. TAA Flight Training in Greensboro, where I took my first flight, offers an introductory flight for $99. Other flight schools include Piedmont Flight Training and Murphy Aviation, as well as a program at GTCC. A recreational flying certificate, which allows solo flights within 50 miles of a home airport, can be obtained in approximately 30 hours — not much longer than a driver’s ed course. A private pilot license at TAA Flight Training involves an estimated 55 hours and $7,000 for training. The school also gives training for commercial and airline certificates. For my “discovery flight,” of course, I was glad to have a co-pilot. She was MayCay Beeler, a glamorous blond and long-time TV journalist who became a pilot 20 years ago after attending flight school for a news feature. She joined me in the cockpit of the Liberty XL2 and showed me how to start the engine. Above us, the sky was blue and the sun shone. Beeler radioed our destination to the Piedmont Triad International Airport tower and drove toward the runway. From our small plane, the runway looked grander than it ever did from the window of a 737. Then it was our turn for takeoff. Beeler accelerated to 60 mph and we rose into the air. High in the sky above Belews Creek, I got to pilot. I moved the stick with one hand. The slightest push forward and the plane declined; to the side and the plane tipped its wings and turned. Each time I gazed at the earth below, for too long. Beeler would remind me to “raise the nose” or “bring it down just a little.” The drawback to afternoon flights, however, is thermal wind, or patches of rising warm air. The wind can cause mild turbulence in small planes. After 25 minutes in the air, my stomach also began to feel turbulent. Beeler took control of the plane and guided us toward a distant white shape that was the airport. As we landed, I cheered and clapped, which I haven’t done on a plane since I was three. Beeler’s students include a high school student, a sheriff’s deputy, a HondaJet engineer and her 18-yearold son. One of five pilots at TAA Flight Training, she goes flying nearly every day, as an instructor or alone. “I love flying solo and being one with the airplane. I don’t think about flying, I just feel it,” Beeler said. The flight school was started in 2008 as part of Koury Aviation, which also markets planes and charter plane services. Located in the same building as Koury Aviation, the school has access to new aircraft for training. Planes like the Liberty XL2, which uses a state-of-the-art onboard computer, are safer than ever and also more exciting, according to Beeler. The school also maintains a digital weather center. But safety ultimately depends on good training. “The most important thing is a pilot’s judgment,” Beeler said. More information about local flight schools can be found at, the website of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The reasons for learning to fly, as listed on the website, include “A smart business decision,” “Connect with family and friends,” “Thrill and adventure” and, poetically, to “slip the surly bonds of Earth.” If you don’t want to go through flight school, then consider the one-time introductory flight — a worthy rite of passage for anyone from the “First In Flight” state.

Before he returns to Dartmouth later this spring, YES! Weeklyeditorial intern Gus Lubin (left) is taking advantage of any plumassignment he can land his hands on. This one involved a short flyinglesson with former television journalist MayCay Beeler (right). Gus isso like the Maverick.

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