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Tonga: “But I’m Not a Pilot!”

But I'm not a pilot!

But I’m not a pilot!

 

 

Tonga: Going to Ouleva Island

 

We were flying from the Vava’u Group in Tonga to the Haap’ai Group, where we had arrangements to take a boat to an uninhabited island, Ouleva.

 

At the airport, as we walked out to our small 8-seater plane, I noticed the pilot was actually leaning out over the nose cone of the plane cleaning the windshield!

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Tonga Pilot

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Tongan plane

 

But I’m Not a Pilot

 

A few minutes later, I was standing outside waiting my turn to go up the stairs into the plane, when the pilot came over, pulled me aside, and said,

 

“Will you be my co-pilot?”

 

The words shot out at me like a bullet. I looked around to see if he was speaking to someone else. He must have made a mistake, I thought, but he was looking right at me, and he had pulled me off to the side.

 

“Oh no, I’m not a pilot!” I exclaimed in total shock at his suggestion that I could fly an airplane, or that I could offer assistance in flying an airplane, or that I could relieve anyone in flying an airplane either! Simply preposterous.

But I'm not a pilot!

But I’m not a pilot!

 

“That’s ok,” he said, “I’ll show you what to do. My co-pilot didn’t show up, and I need a co-pilot. Go ahead and get seated in the cockpit.”

 

OKKKayyy…,” I said, weakly.

 

Registering this as reality was going to take…

a….

few….

minutes….

 

I walked slowly up the steps. Oh my God. Oh my God! My heart began to pound.

 

Suddenly, I felt excited! This was utterly amazing!

 

As I nonchalantly waltzed past T, already seated on the plane, and as he was getting up to let me sit beside him, I stopped him, breathlessly telling him that I was the co-pilot as I rushed by walking towards the cockpit.

 

“Yeah right.” he says, sarcastically. 

 

When I proceeded down the aisle and seated myself in the cockpit, T was totally shocked. 

 

Then, thinking I was teasing, he came up to the cockpit a few minutes later to get me, whispering urgently,

“Ok, the pilot is coming…!”

“You better get out of there!”

 

“No, for real.”  I said. “The pilot asked me!”

 

He could see that my face was lit up in enthusiasm. With a look of astonishment at first, then envy, I saw that he was both incredulous and a little jealous as he walked back to his seat.

 

 

The Pilot

 

The pilot boarded the plane then, walked down the aisle, and pausing beside me, said,

“Ummm, that’s my seat – the co-pilot sits in the other seat.”

 

Oh no! How could I be so dumb? I was completely embarrassed! The pilot was smiling, ever so slightly.

 

He sat down, and started giving me instructions.

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Not a pilot

Before I knew it we were flying down the runway and lifting off. What a rush when you can see the whole landscape and ocean in front of you!!!

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Not a pilot

As the plane was climbing, I became alarmed when I noticed that my small angle side window was partly open. Panicking, and anxious to be a good co-pilot, I asked the pilot if I should close it.

“No, it’s OK. I’ll tell you when to close it in a few minutes.” he said.

The Views

 

I started to relax. WOW. The views were incredible!

IMG_0958Co-pilot on Tongan plane 


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Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

Everywhere I looked lush green islands dotted the ocean, each island frilled by white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons. I wanted to stay up there forever.

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Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

 

A Call to Action

 

Mesmerized by the views and trying to take in all of this whole mind-blowing experience, it surprised me when the pilot pointed out the landing strip as it came into view far in the distance. It was pouring rain, the windshield smeared with blown rain, and the landing strip was a tiny gray bar barely visible in the distance. 

 

As the runway got closer, I started getting nervous, the true reality of my call-to-action starting to sink in. 

 

What if… (gulp)….

What if… (heart palpitations)…

What if the pilot suddenly couldn’t land the plane?!

 

I would be expected to land it! I was the co-pilot! Could I do it? I tried to recall any stored knowledge in my tiny brain of how to land an airplane. Panic was blocking retrieval of any such prior knowledge.

 

Panic

 

Watching movies of airplane landings is not enough. I should have paid more attention when I flew with my uncle in Northern Canada as a child. Lift up the nose… reduce speed… but not too much or you’ll fall out of the sky… how do you know how much to reduce speed… when do you put down the wheels… where was the landing gear switch… where was the speed control!? 

 

Oh my God!!!  OH MY GOD!!! What if? Really, I mean what if? Not likely, I know, but what if the pilot could not land the plane? What if he passed out or something? I am NOT a pilot.

IMG_0968

Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

I looked over at the pilot, and he was smiling as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. He looked fine. He wasn’t sick or having a sudden heart attack or anything. Maybe I wouldn’t have to land the plane. 

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Pilot on Tongan plane 

OK, calm down… of course the pilot will be able to land the plane. 

The Landing

 

Then it was so thrilling to watch as we approached the runway that I forgot about being terrified of landing the plane; I was busy focussing on remembering every precious second of this incredible experience.

Closer…

And closer….

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                                                                                                           Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

And closer….

Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

And touching down….

IMG_0971

Co-pilot on Tongan plane 

 

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience

 

Imagine that! 



I helped fly a plane over the South Pacific ocean

and

I’m not a pilot!


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*This article was first published on Travel To Little Known Places June 2013

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16 Responses to Tonga: “But I’m Not a Pilot!”

  1. What a rush that must have been! All the fun without having to go through flight training!

  2. Alesasia says:

    That’s so crazy, I can’t believe you drove a plane! – Alesasia, granddaughter, age 6

  3. travellittleknownplaces says:

    Thank you pureobservation! It really was the memory of a lifetime!

  4. travellittleknownplaces says:

    Thank you darling Alesasia! Don’t be afraid to try new things! There is no end to the wonderful adventures we can have!

    You will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
    — Mark Twain

  5. Love it, Shirl. Flying vicariously with ya…..teeheeee.

  6. travellittleknownplaces says:

    Glad to hear!!!

  7. Joanne says:

    The photos are so perfect for your incredible story! Great job.

  8. essd2013 says:

    These are the actual photos I took on that flight. In fact, 99% of the photos on the site are mine. I used to think I took too many photos, but now I’m glad I did! Thanks for commenting Joanne!

  9. Ashraf says:

    Shirley, I always admire you for your courage for trying new things, going new places, and learning new things, and now this amazing experience!
    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
    Helen Keller,

  10. travellittleknownplaces says:

    Thank you so much Ashraf! I love that quote too!

  11. Funny, that brought back a memory. Backpacking around the South Pacific necessitated some flights and one of them was in one of those little 7 seaters. And I was the co-pilot there, not thinking I’d be flying, rather just taking up a seat. But the very cute pilot let me take the steering wheel (is that what it’s called), pointed to the horizon and gave just a few pointers. Kind of cool even for a short time. :- ) He was an Aussie, getting his miles in Fiji. I wonder what ever became of him? LOL

    • travellittleknownplaces says:

      Really? You had the same experience?! Exciting hmm?! I bet it’s fairly common on those small airplanes anywhere in the world. But what a rush! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

  12. omar says:

    …..refrishing new site….. can’t wait to read about the next destination…….

  13. vicarious traveller says:

    ….. great photos…….. passionate writing……….

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