COLUMBIA — An optimistically labeled "four-seater" plane is a cramped, confined and completely free environment.
The interior of the single-engine Piper Warrior II plane can inspire claustrophobia in a spelunker.
The ever-expanding sky and lengthening horizon as it takes off, though, overcome the sense of being trapped and mute the sound of the loudly growling engine and the garbled, static chatter on the radio.
Jonathan D. McQuilkin of Columbia flew by himself in the cramped aircraft for the first time on Sept. 22.
“It’s completely beautiful up there,” McQuilkin said.
Flying is not a hobby many people have the opportunity to indulge.
McQuilkin began taking flight lessons at Columbia Regional Airport after his wife got him a gift certificate through Central Missouri Aviation last Christmas.
“Everybody plays golf, but there aren’t a lot of people out there who have their pilot's license,” McQuilkin said. “I’ve been talking about doing it for several years now, but I talk about doing a lot of stuff that never happens."
Until this flight, McQuilkin had flown with an instructor in the plane during training sessions.
Flying is “incredibly easy,” McQuilkin said. “It’s the taking off and landing," though, "that’s a little scary."
When he was training, McQuilkin nearly botched one landing when he applied the left brake more than the right and the plane almost veered off the runway. Luckily, his instructor was able to grab the rudder and save the plane.
“I about wrecked the plane," he said. "That was probably the scariest moment I’ve had.”
McQuilkin was nervous for his first solo flight, but it went well with no close calls.
“When I was doing the first solo I kept looking over and wondering where my instructor was,” said McQuilkin, “I was nervous about it, but I was glad to be moving forward and getting that part done.”
McQuilkin has to continue his training and complete a minimum of 10 hours of solo flight. He plans on going beyond the minimum before completing his license, though.
A burnt-out shell of a fake fuselage sat at the end of the runway during McQuilkin’s flight for use in an emergency response exercise later that week. McQuilkin didn’t end up needing any emergency services and hopes to never need rescue.
“I don’t want to be that charred-out shell at the end of the runway," McQuilkin said.