Taking off: Looking down at SDSU

John Schmidt

We hear them all the time above us while we walk to campus; the sound of propellers slicing through the air making small SDSU airplanes fly. In current events we’re reading about the mystery around Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which must be acting as a catalyst for people who have pteromerhanophobia — the fear of flying.

Marge Simpson was once on an airplane in an episode of The Simpsons when she discovered her father was actually a stewardess for an airline. This discovery gives Marge pteromerhanophobia, which causes her to run up and down the aisle of the airplane pleading to be let off. You can see a shot of the exterior of the airplane and a blue bob of hair running back and forth. I thought of this moment and chuckled as SDSU flight instructor Matt Neff drained some of the fuel out of the wings of a Cessna Skyhawk. It’s also rather cold outside and the wind is bashing up against the SDSU aviation hangar on the west outskirts of town.

“The fuel tanks are in the wings,” Neff said.  He had several things to do before we took off, a lot of things I would have never thought went into flying an aircraft. Water can get into the wings which can mix with the fuel and get in the engine, hence why Neff drained some fuel out of the wings to make sure nothing bad got in the mix 

Neff is a 2013 graduate of SDSU’s aviation program and now works as an instructor for students trying to take to the skies. He is acting as my pathfinder for my journey above campus and Brookings. I’ve never been a big fan of flying. My size makes me uncomfortable when in cramped spaces with people, and the hyperbolic scenarios for MAF370 I’ve created don’t help either. I also remember when I was a child and went to Camp Snoopy with my mom, we were on a ride – a bus that raises into the air and goes up and down. I remember sitting in the bus screaming while my mother tried to calm me down. I hated everything about that bus, I’ve never been on any sort of amusement park ride since then and it shattered all ambitions for me to fly. I remember how I’ve come to be alright with flying as I watch a flight technician wheel the plane out of the hangar.


After climbing into the plane, buckling in and admiring all the electronics (which Neff said if they ever failed the plane would still be controllable), Neff spoke into his headset to the traffic controllers, the propellers fire up and we’re blazing down the runway.

“Can you help me look for birds?” Neff asked while we got going. With the warm weather finally coming back, birds are starting to flock back to their natural habitats and can cause some body damage to the plane if hit.

Just after that short talk on birds, the large hangar I was just in is now much smaller and we’re about 5,000 feet up in the sky. Neff told me that he’s flown over 500 hours and that, along with the amazing view of Brookings and SDSU put me at ease

            Neff showed me “slow flight,” which is where you adjust the speed of the aircraft to the speed of the wind blowing at it, to get what Neff said was a “swimming upstream” feel. Looking down showed me that the plane was pretty much crawling in the air, going much slower than it previously was.

            Right before our journey ended, I was given the chance to pilot the plane. I got to drop the airplane down to a particular altitude before we landed. It felt amazing to have control over the aircraft. Every time I moved my feet, the plane would turn left or right. I had so much power in my hands and feet that all the fear I had previously disappeared. All of my fears and worries were gone the instant Neff said I had control of the aircraft.

Staring out the planes window, admiring the town below and controlling the plane, I came to the realization that if you let fear rule you, you will be surrounded by mystery. You’ll never know what the world looks like if you let the idea of exploring it crush you, to not wanting anything to do with it. If I just stood in the hangar, said “no,” and walked away from this whole ordeal, I wouldn’t have the chance to see how beautiful SDSU looks from the sky. I would have never had the chance to learn about how birds affect flight and how educated and careful those who pilot planes are. My weird worries about size in small places and MAF 370 were eradicated the moment I grabbed fear by the horns and piloted the aircraft, even if it was just for a short time.

I didn’t let fear get the best of me, and I had an amazing time in the sky.