Monday, February 6, 2012

Arizona: beneath a blanket made of stars

After Colorado, I got to visit a chapter at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. I flew into Flagstaff and drove into Prescott.  It was the first time I ever rented a car, so that was interesting.  The rental car had power locks, power windows and cruise control, so I was definitely feeling like I was living a life of luxury! One thing I learned while at the airport was that Arizona is in Mountain Time Zone but it doesn’t observe, and hasn’t done so in more than 40 years, daylight saving time. So that means half the year it’s aligned with Los Angeles and half the year it’s with Denver. I wondered for the longest time as to why they were the only state to not recognize DST, but tonight I found out that it has a lot to do with the state’s weather.

 It was very neat to be on that campus and visit with the women there. It’s such a different school compared to those I’ve visited. It’s full of future pilots, engineers, and rocket scientists, and about 80% of the student population is male. When looking into the school’s library from the outside, the interior of the building is lit up to look like a runway. It was just such a unique school!

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Airplane Display in the Library

Airplanes Up Close

While I was there, I found Method Coffee – a neat local coffee shop. I must admit, I frequented there a few times on my way to campus and it was amazing! The folks there treated me well every day and were so friendly. I didn’t really get to dine anywhere locally while in Prescott, so I’m thankful for this discovery.

This wasn’t my first trip to Arizona, but it’s been a while since that memorable Griswold-like family vacation. And for some reason this time around, I was very much more conscious (some might call it paranoid) about rattlesnakes.  I asked some of the students if they had ever seen rattlesnakes on campus, but no one could ever recall an incident.  I even asked the women with whom I was staying if they ever had rattlesnakes, they responded, “Well, we put out snake repellent so there shouldn’t be any.” That calmed my concerns for the most part (kind of); however, I was definitely still walking around with my focus on the ground.  Thankfully, no rattlesnakes were spotted on this visit.

Campus View from Library

One of my favorite parts of my visit was a plane ride I had the privilege to take with the chapter advisor, who is actually a faculty member for the school.  She teaches students how to fly and asked me if I would be interested in tagging along for a lesson she was teaching.  We met at the airport the next morning, and she introduced me to her student. Before we even thought about warming up the plane, she and the student went over his last flight, what he did right, what he could work on, patterns he noticed, etc.  After they prefaced the day’s flight with some reflection upon the last lesson, we all went out to the tarmac and got the plane ready for takeoff.  After they checked the oil, made sure there weren’t chips in the wings, and did many other pre-takeoff rituals, we all climbed into the plane and got ready for taxiing. Before hitting the runway, the student went many of the safety things that passenger airlines go over before takeoff: the seat belt, the exits, where to find a fire extinguisher, etc. He even told me to keep an eye out for any planes I may see during the flight and to let him know if I saw any nearby.  They gave me a headset in order to do this and to also hear what they and air traffic control was saying.  It was such an experience listening to the student communicate with air traffic control, especially because it really sounded like air traffic control was mumbling the entire time. 

Our Plane! (The door on the nose is storage.)
All of the School's Planes
So excited to ride in this plane!

The flight was very exciting. During this lesson, the student was mostly practicing landings.  When we would take off, we would fly around the area for a little bit and then the instructor would announce a distance from the end of the runway she would like him to land. Once he would land, he would just keep going and take off again. We did this about five times throughout the flight. There was never a time when I was nervous or uneasy about having the student fly the plane. He did a really wonderful job and it was reassuring to know in case something unexpected were to happen, the instructor had the same controls on her side as the student had on his. 

Taking off for the First Time

Student and Instructor in Flight

It was such a fun time and something that I have never experienced/something that I will probably not likely have the pleasure to do again for a very long time.  The flight even sparked something in me to learn more about the process in getting a pilot’s license. I don’t think I would ever do such a thing, but hearing all the stories of how they fly to other states rather than driving was just so amazing! I’m not sure I would ever have the guts, or the money to ever be able to do such a thing, but it’s nice to dream. 

Another one of my favorite about being in Arizona was the night sky every night. It was breathtakingly clear – never a cloud in the sky and enough stars to make you just stop and want to stare for hours.  The sky was just so captivating – literally one of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen in my life. Go to Arizona. Experience this sky in your lifetime.

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