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.