During our first year of marriage, my husband was a Corporate Pilot. He had a trip scheduled one particular weekend and wanted me to go along. Though I didn’t like flying in a twin-engine turbo prop airplane, being newly wedded, I wanted to be with him, too. So I went along as his copilot.
It was early springtime, and the weather was beautiful, when we began our journey. We embarked on our departure from the Philadelphia Airport in Pennsylvania, and headed to Hickory North Carolina, to pick up our passengers. I was thrilled to be sitting in the copilot's seat, and looking out the window at the magnificent view! It was truly a feeling of wonder. I had the sensation of butterflies in my stomach, as we took off into the blue sky and white puffy clouds. Our destination was North Carolina. It would be our first stop, where we'd pick up five passengers, and take them to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
We enjoyed a smooth, clear, sunny flight, and arrived on time in North Carolina. We greeted our passengers and introduced ourselves. There were four men and one woman. The woman made a remark to me about how brave I am for being a woman copilot! My husband discussed with me ahead of time, not to show any anxiety or fear of flying, as this would not be professional. Although having a single pilot license is the only requirement with an airplane of this type; he felt proud to introduce me as his copilot. He also knew beforehand that the woman passenger had a fear of flying, so he wanted to keep his passengers as comfortable as he could. While being kind, cordial, and professional, I remained quiet, not to show my anxiety or dislike in flying. Instead, I turned away from fear, by showing more respect towards my husband’s courageous profession, and concern for the passengers.
We proceeded to seat everyone and keep them comfortable, while reassuring their safety. My husband made it a point to tell the passengers that he also is a Flight Instructor, and that he taught me the basics in flying. Whereas, it was a safety issue that there was not one, but two pilots aboard the plane. He'd always show his best side of humor and gave his passengers a lot of attention for a joyful and relaxed trip. Even so, I never voiced the numerous times he actually drilled me about take off and landings, and keeping the plane straight and level, on our previous Sunday pleasure trips. And he even offered to teach me more about instrument flying! However, through dislike or fear, I didn’t care to learn any more about flying and listened halfheartedly.
We took off into the blue skies and headed towards Harrisburg. With no warning whatsoever, and not very long into the fight, I noticed the radar screen with bright, red and yellow bursts, flashing all over the screen. I was familiar with what an approaching storm looked like on radar, but never like this! The system almost covered the entire screen. I quietly asked my husband how we were going to get away from this as we continued to head towards the huge black cloud that was in front of us. He said he was hoping I hadn’t noticed the warning because he didn’t want to alarm me of the failed radio contact from Air Traffic Control. I was terrified as the rain thrashed the windshield. There were large hail stones that pounded the plane as though it was going to break through the glass. The sky was pitched black. We couldn’t see a thing in front of us. We could only hear and feel the tremendous wind and rain pounding beneath our wings that were mysteriously held in place by my husband’s profound instrument navigation. We were in the center of the storm now! This was the first time that I ever saw my husband so quiet and serious in flying. There were no more jokes! He told me to 'just' stay calm while he focused on the artificial horizon indicator. He said that in all his years of flying this has to be one of the worst storms he’s been in. He needed my help more than anything in just keeping the passengers comfortable.
We were in severe turbulence! We could hear the passengers moan and cry out, ‘Oh My God’, each time the plane would lose its altitude! It felt like we were riding in a train without tracks, on a rough mountain terrain, rather than gliding through the air in a plane. I was absolutely terrified! The delicate woman cried out for me to help her, because she thought, she was going to lose it. Even the gentlemen began to show signs of distress, as it felt like the airplane was about to fall out of the sky! Little did the passengers know that I was shaking so much inside, that, earlier, I had strapped my hands down under the safety seat belt to keep them still. All that I knew was, I can only pray…
My husband tried the radio again, hoping to reach Air Traffic Control for vectors. However, he wasn’t getting a response. All the while, he remained calm through keeping the airplane under control. The passengers hollered out to me again. They wanted to know if something was wrong? My husband quietly said that he would have never taken off, if he’d been warned of the severity of the weather in the first place! All that I knew for sure, was I had to remain calm so my husband could focus on flying the airplane. I took my hands out from under the safety belt straps and started a conversation with the passengers. I reassured them that everything was fine, and that we were just going through some thunder storms. I continued asking questions about their business convention, and I kept the woman occupied with questions about her family, etc. She had a hard time listening or responding to me, other than, expressing how brave I must be, to be a copilot, and that she certainly would never want to do this! I didn’t answer to this, but only in whatever I could think of to keep her mind off any dangers of the storm. By this time, the men were showing more signs of distress, too. I remained calm for close to an hour before we started to break through the black clouds to peaks of blue skies ahead.
My husband announced that we were getting out of this stuff! Just like that! And before we all took the next breath, we broke through to clear sunny skies and heavenly white clouds. Everyone cheered and applauded him! My husband thanked me for being an excellent copilot and keeping our passengers comfortable while he navigated our way to safety. The passengers and especially the woman thanked me for my bravery, and keeping the calm while my husband rescued all of us to a safe and perfect landing.
We later found that this large pop-up weather system, was not on our forecast when we took off. Air Traffic Control had stopped any flights taking off or landing in that area. However, we were actually in the center of it, and that was the reason we couldn’t get any radio contact.
I continued to fly with my husband as his copilot, whenever he asked me to be by his side. I'm almost certain; this is what led me to overcome my fear of flying. In addition to supporting him, and keeping the passengers calm, I cultivated mine. I soon learned to listen wholeheartedly whenever my husband explains flight controls. We never know when the weather may change its course.
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Westwind Foster Family Agency, Christian Children's Fund, Compassion International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Invisible Children, Save the Children