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Get Out of Town! - Spend an Hour as a Hollywood Aviator
September, 2006 - Issue #23
As far back as I can remember I've been excited about airplanes and flying. My dad and I had a Saturday morning ritual when I was a kid. Pancakes at Dupar's, followed by an hour or two hanging on the fence at Van Nuys Airport watching planes of every size and shape come and go. While my school-age classmates were into the NFL, I knew all about the RAF and could identify a P-51 Mustang with my ears.

To this day, I stop whatever I'm doing and peer skyward if I hear or see something interesting flying overhead. And unlike many, I actually enjoy getting on a commercial airliner just to feel the thrust it generates on take off push me deep into my seat. Flying holds no fear me and it's something I always look forward to.

So why was I so nervous sitting in the left seat - the pilot's seat - of a Cessna 172 with the yoke in my hands and the 4,000 feet of Van Nuys Airport's Runway 16 Left stretched out in front of me? I don't know, but that's exactly where I found myself on a recent Sunday afternoon, thanks to my wife. April booked a 30-minute "Discovery Flight" with Hollywood Aviators for my birthday.

Fortunately, I was not alone. Sitting next to me was Gino Sesto, a certified flight instructor whose job it was to give me some limited flying experience, snap the pictures to prove it and keep us in the air. The pressure was really on Gino, not me, but I still felt like a teenager taking his first driving lesson.

It started soon enough when the tower cleared us to take off. Gino revved the throttle and we headed down the runway. I waited for my first cue: pull back on the yoke far enough to get us off the ground. It didn't seem like we could be going fast enough, nor that I had pulled back enough, but with the slightest tug, our wheels suddenly left the runway and we quickly climbed high enough to see the San Fernando Valley spread out below us.

Take to the Skies!

Hollywood Aviators is located at 7535 Valjean Avenue, #2 in Van Nuys. Call them at 818-994-2004 or visit www.hollywoodaviators.com. The Deluxe Discovery Flight is $99 and allows for you to pilot a four-seat, single-engine aircraft. The whole experience lasts about an hour, including 30 minutes in the air.
Still feeling like a new driver, I guided us along far above the 101 and over the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood. I sat straight up in my seat, peering over the instrument panel and trying to keep us pointed in the right direction, occasionally stealing glances at landmarks familiar and otherwise below. The Hollywood Bowl was barely recognizable, and who knew there were all those reservoirs in the hills? As we circled around downtown's skyscrapers, which somehow didn't look so big, we dodged a runaway balloon bouquet and watched helicopters slide under us hundreds of feet below.

Gino took over as we headed west toward the beach. The tower at Santa Monica airport gave us permission to linger over the pier, so we banked into a hard left turn and the pier, surf, and crowded beach below spun around and around as we completed several tight circles.

From the beach, we headed north over the Santa Monica Mountains, passing above the Getty Center, and followed the 405 back into the San Fernando Valley toward Van Nuys Airport. Landing requires more expertise than simply pulling back on the stick, so I got to sit back and watch as Gino throttled back the engine, adjusted the flaps, and brought us right back to where we started.

Enthusiasm had replaced nervousness and it was fun to be a kid again, this time on the other side of the fence and part of the action.

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Eric Harnish is a Newhall resident.
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