"Orange County, Cessna 120 turning left base to final for runway 3.0. Orange County."
I let my thumb off of the radio transmitter to the sound of a comforting crackle, that same electric pop you hear when disconnecting headphones from a live computer.
I was satisfied. It was something more than that, actually. I was proud. All four of that day’s landings had been clean. Not perfect, but I was staying ahead of the plane and finally relaxing on the controls. I hadn’t forgotten a single radio call, the skies were clear, and the breeze coming through the open window by my elbow was warm and steady.
Making my final turn and pointing the taildragger’s sleek nose down towards the end of the runway, I thought to myself something along the lines of “This is the one. You got this. I got this. Don’t forget to breathe, dumbass. Relax.”
This mental conversation worked in perfect harmony with my Dad’s silence to become nearly deafening. I wasn’t holding it against him; he just wanted me to do this one by myself. “Straighten her out,” was probably the only thing he’d said in the past thirty minutes.
There comes a distinct moment, while properly landing a plane, when you pull the throttle back to idle, at which point you’re falling. Technically, it’s “gliding,” but in the bottom of your ass it really feels like falling, and gravity pushes you into your seat to confirm the idea. It’s very important to accurately judge your glide path before cutting the throttle, because correcting anything gets more difficult and errors become more exaggerated the closer you get to the ground.
I cut the throttle. The controls vibrated as the breeze shouldered the weight of my wings.
Then, suddenly, that support disappeared beneath me, and an intense feeling of vertigo took its place as my plane dropped out of the sky.