But I Fly Helicopters!

This is my mantra when I am facing something scary, for example: spiders, bugs in general and anything that isn’t flying helicopters.

Why is this my mantra?

Flying helicopters was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Think about it, it’s a flying death machine being controlled by a human. What could go wrong, right?

I have had to face my fears many times without this mantra and it was not easy. For example, I had to face several of my greatest fears at one time: ocean water, sharks and stingrays all at the same time. That’s right I swam in shark and stingray infested waters and I didn’t have the mantra back then. 

I did have a hunky Tahitian guide with a traditional tattoo of a shark and stingray so I had a feeling I was in good hands. We were on an excursion of a lifetime and this was the moment you enter the traveler-zone or stay in the comfort-zone.

The brave ones jumped into the water without hesitation while the rest of us who were more apprehensive considered our options. One-by-one the reluctants joined in. It was me and one other lady and she was not even having it. So I watched our guide as he explained how the stingrays eat, he gave it a fish in the mouth and what looked like its ear! Holy shit! That was creepy!!

Since I was still on the boat, he asked me to hand him the bag of fish. It was blood-soaked and heavier than I expected. Fish blood and fish juice got all over my hand and arm and I was about to go into the shark and stingray water. WTF was I thinking?! 

I wasn’t, I just slowly climbed down the ladder into the warm clear water, making sure not step on a stingray because that would be bad, very bad. What you had to do was float and keep your hands and feet close to you so the sea critters don’t think your hands are food and try to eat them. So there I am doing the oddest doggy-paddle of my life while seeing sharks and stingrays through my snorkel mask. 

Then I heard my breath. Slow and steady. Calm as I could be while “swimming” with sharks and stingrays. It was the craziest thing I had ever experienced. 

I guess you could say, “But I swam in shark and stingray infested waters” would be a good mantra, but I disagree. 

Here’s why. I chose to learn to fly helicopters. I paid for lessons. I trained and I drilled the maneuvers. I was prepared for the weather situations, I was prepared for things not to go right and how to adapt. It was skill and hard work—and it was scary as hell. 

But you were trained and exposed to various elements that helped you handle a situation. And when you survived it you felt exhilarated. 

For example: Turbulence. We know them and dislike them in large commercial aircraft. Let me tell you they feel very different in a small flying death bubble. 

The first thing you are trained to do is to ease off the controls when you hit them. Most people want to plow through them and accelerate. WRONG answer. This is a very scary situation, you are bouncing around and being tossed about all the while trying to pay attention to your speed, altimeter, and listening for odd noises. 

During one of my three cross country flights I hit some really bad turbulence and I literally thought I saw my heart leave the cockpit while I tried to gain control of the flying death bubble.

Here’s what happened: I was flying through a canyon as per the flight plan. I was flying at the correct altitude and speed. Then I dropped and bounced in the sky. My training kicked in. I eased off the collective, cyclic and pedals, then looked at my gauges about shat myself because I saw the worst thing I could see. My speed gauge hit the red zone which means I could crack the engine and fall from the sky. Yup, that just happened. You are one and half hours away from your home airport what do you do? You pay attention to every sound she makes. You watch those gauges and prepare to land anywhere that looks safe. This is what you train for. This is what has been drilled into you. You can handle this. They would never let you fly by yourself for three hours if they didn’t believe you could do it. You are doing it and taking control of the situation.

You just recovered from a torrent of angry air and maintained control. You can do anything. 

That is why I say my mantra is, “But I fly helicopters.” To remind myself that if I can survive a flying death bubble, I should be able to kill a spider or any other creepy-crawly thing out there.


Guillaume Maillet, my first CFI and the best!! He was my favorite instructor. He believed in me and gave me the confidence I needed to fly R22 helicopters.

Here’s an article that sheds some light on the flying world from the pilots and owners of my flight school.

Here’s a video of a student pilot and instructor during lift off, clearance and take off. (Clear Left, Clear Right. Get that ETL.)

(We’re in the middle of a move so my log book, certificate, and photos are all packed up. I trained well before social media was a thing and documenting my flights was hard since I had a flip phone back then. If I was flying now, you bet I’d be filming everything!!)

7 thoughts on “But I Fly Helicopters!

  1. So I guess mine would be “But I drive LA freeways, drive alone thousands of miles on vacations and stand up for people being bullied!” Then why can’t I stand up for myself!!! Massively great writing. Great ability to stay en pointe. Humbling perspective on being human.

    • Awe. That’s so sweet. Thank you my friend. Yes, you are very brave to drive those freeways and roads alone. Please be safe.
      Sometimes it’s easier to be the voice for others than ourselves and that shows great character. By standing up for others you will, no doubt, begin to stand up for yourself. And if not, let me at’em. I’ll stand up for you.

  2. I will never be able to call them helicopters again. I will hence forth refer to them as “flying death bubbles.” Even in the most formal conversations.

    Learning to fly one of those shows a considerable amount of bravery, skill, and inner strength, so it makes for a fantastic mantra.

    • K., since you and I survived the same grad program you can relate to this adventure too. Before grad school Ness and I went on a trip to Ireland as my undergrad present. Driving on the other side of the road was scary as hell and quite the white-knuckle adventure. We had to work together to navigate the roundabouts. We had a saying, “Go! Do not hesitate.” So another mantra that prepared me for grad school was two weeks of right-hand drive through the Irish countryside. I felt if I could handle that I could get through grad school :-)!!!

  3. Pingback: Eating My Dreams | Coffee Musings

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