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Off he goes into the wild blue yonder

March 20, 2008|Liam Gowing

AS I watched the ground rushing up at me from the pilot's seat of the Cessna 182, my brain was awash in a blast of exclamations that would get me fired if I repeated them here. Yet I felt no fear as I landed the single-engine aircraft, because offering direction and encouragement from the copilot's chair -- not to mention a second set of hands on a second set of controls -- was Liz DeStaffany.

An instructor at the Santa Monica Airport-based flight school Justice Aviation, De- Staffany is just one of the thousands of crackerjack fliers participating in ProjectPilot, a new Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. program that offers discounted, one-hour demonstration flights to folks interested in pursuing a pilot's license. That's not to say she isn't special, however.

The daughter of an Air Force pilot and great-granddaughter of an old-school aviator certified by Orville Wright, 25-year-old DeStaffany was born to fly. In fact, she got her pilot's license at just 17. It showed from the start.

Checklist in hand, DeStaffany took me through a visual inspection of the plane so transformative, I practically grew feathers. Before I entered the cabin, I knew that turning the yoke right or left would cause the plane to roll in that direction by moving the turn-side wing's "aileron" up and the other one down; pulling back on the yoke would pitch the plane upward by tilting the elevators on the horizontal stabilizer; and depressing either pedal would control the yaw (like a car turning on a flat surface) by adjusting the rudder on the vertical stabilizer.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, March 20, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Action Man: A photo caption with the Action Man column in today's Guide should have credited the photo to Liz DeStaffany, not Times photographer Spencer Weiner.

Confident in our bird's mechanics, we climbed aboard, cranked her up like a car and spent some quality time with the Garmin G1000, a dual-screen navigation system integrating air- and ground-speed displays, altimeter, radar and enough bells and whistles to fly through a black hole.

Finally, after DeStaffany cleared our departure with the airport, we taxied onto the runway and it was on. We throttled up to 60 knots and, just as she said, "the plane will basically take off by itself." Pulling back on the yokes simultaneously, we flew up and into a beautiful, cloudless sky to enjoy more than just magnificent views of the California coastline up to Malibu and back. The flight was everything that harnessing mankind's most sublime invention should be. I was Einstein with his tongue out the whole time, riding science like a roller coaster, giving God a wink and gravity a wedgie.

Flying's easy, DeStaffany told me after we returned to Santa Monica Airport. "Just remember: Pointy side forward, dirty side down."

Words to live by.

For a photo gallery, go to





WHERE: 3,500 flight schools nationwide.

PRICE: $50-$65, one-hour demonstration flights


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