Zach Greene carried an obsession for flying from as far back as he could remember. His mom says that from the time he was five, he was forever spreading his arms and flying through the house, jumping on and off the furniture, careening from room to room, and making airplane noises until she wanted to strangle him. It all started when his dad took him to an air show where there were all kinds of aircraft on display. There were the newest and the oldest Air Force and Navy fighter aircraft, business jets, old and new GA (general aviation) models, choppers, just about everything except commercial airliners.
But the machine that captured his imagination and set off his passion for flying was an old Stearman biplane trainer, built in 1942 and flown by a white-haired old guy in a leather helmet and goggles. He looked older than Zach's grandpa. He did loops, rolls, he even flew down the runway about forty feet off the ground upside down! After his show, he offered rides for fifty bucks a pop, but Zach's dad wasn't willing to spring for that. Zach cried.
From the moment he saw that big yellow monster, he was hooked, and from that moment on, he never wanted to be anything but a pilot when he grew up. Never a firefighter, never a police officer, never a doctor nor a cowboy. He was going to be a pilot! No other profession need apply.
By the time he reached his teens, his room was crammed with model airplanes, and he had scrapbooks with pictures of about every kind of flying machine you could imagine. There must have been fifty books on the history of flying and aircraft on his bookshelves.
Any time he could manage it, he'd ride his bike out to the county airport, about three miles from town. It wasn't very big, only six privately owned hangars, a crop dusting operation, and the main hangar with the maintenance shop and a cramped, shabbily furnished pilot's lounge where the local recreational flyers met to compare war stories and talk about how much moisture their crops got during the last storm.
There were no scheduled flights in or out. It was mostly used by farmers flying their Cessnas and Pipers, but from time to time, gas exploration companies would take up temporary residence and park their King Airs and Citations on the apron.
The guy that owned the crop dusting service had an old radial engine Thrush that was louder than six locomotives when it took off with a full load. Zach must have asked him a dozen times if he could go for a ride, but the guy said he couldn't because it only had one seat, and besides, his insurance wouldn't allow it. That's when he made himself a promise that he'd fly a big crop-duster of his own, someday.
Even when there weren't any planes landing or taking off, he'd hang out with George Klein, the airport manager. George was hands down, the best aircraft mechanic in the region, so customers would bring their planes to him from several surrounding counties. He'd let Zach help around the hangar, sweeping up, cleaning tools, that kind of stuff.
When George was doing an annual inspection on somebody's plane, Zach would follow him around and have whatever tool he needed already in hand before he even asked for it. Heck, the boy could probably have done a lot of the inspection himself, because he knew how to access and inspect all the cables, check engine compression, all that stuff.
Between the library and the Internet, Zach learned about, and could name, just about any type of plane you could point to. He knew all the local ones, of course, but even if one was just flying over the area, if it wasn't too high, he could tell you what it was, how much fuel it burned, what it's range was, it's cruise speed, all kinds of things.
One day in June, when Zach had just turned sixteen and school was out for the summer, George offered him a real job. Of course, he jumped at it, but the condition was that he had his parent's permission. The problem was that his family was supposed to be taking off to the mountains for their annual three-week trip to the cabin.
He hated those trips because they bored him to tears. His dad was one of those 'great outdoors' types who thought if you weren't reeling in a fish or shooting some kind of furry critter, you just weren't getting into the spirit of things. Zach knew he'd have an uphill climb to get his folks to let him stay home and work at the airport.
He argued and argued and argued, but he wasn't making any headway until he talked George into coming by the house to plead on his behalf. George promised Zach's folks that he could stay with him and his wife while they were away, and that he'd see the boy didn't get into any trouble. He told Mr. and Mrs. Greene their son was already well on his way to becoming a top-notch aircraft mechanic, and a summer spent working in the hangar would be a big boost for him if he got into aviation like he wanted to.
Mr. Greene finally relented for a couple of reasons. One, Zach was only an average student in school, and he wasn't looking like a great college prospect. If he could master a trade like aircraft mechanics, he'd probably be able to make a decent living for himself. And two, he knew he'd have to put up with three weeks of grumbling and pouting if he didn't let the kid off the hook on the family vacation thing. Zach could be a major pain in the ass when he set his mind to it.
The kid worked his butt off, earning every penny he was paid, and then some. He kept the hangar, the office and the pilot's lounge spotless. There was always fresh coffee in the pot and cold sodas in the cooler for whoever might drop in. He even brought in an old computer from the garage and set it up to display all the latest aircraft weather data. Of course, George had to pay for the Wi-Fi connection, but local and visiting pilots appreciated the convenience.
When he wasn't cleaning, he was helping George work on the planes. Before long, he was allowed to pack wheel bearings, change engine oil and clean spark plugs in the sand blaster, all without supervision. For annual inspections, he'd pull the seats and open all the inspection ports, making George's job go a lot faster. By the time the Greene family got back to town from their vacation, George was wondering how he ever got along without their son.
The first week in July, two planes were flown in from the neighboring county for annuals. One was a Cessna 210, a real beauty and practically brand-new. The other one was a little Cessna 150. It was about twenty-five years old, but it had been well maintained, and it only had a little over four thousand hours on the engine. It was to be inspected, polished up, then posted for sale on the bulletin board.
Well, Zach wanted that little green and white 150 so bad, he ached. The owner was only asking twenty thousand for it, but he may as well have been asking a million. He knew better than to approach his dad for the money. For starters, he couldn't even fly it until he took lessons and passed all the tests, and he couldn't hold a private license until he was seventeen, another ten months away.
Every day, George saw him practically drooling over the little two-seater. He'd walk around it, moving the ailerons, elevators and rudder. He'd sit in it and study the instruments. He knew the kid would be heartbroken when somebody came in and snatched it up, as they surely would at that price.
After giving it a lot of thought, George called him into the office one day and made him a proposition. He said he'd be willing to buy the 150 and rent it out as a trainer if Zach could find some way to pay for lessons. George didn't have an instructor's rating, but he knew a woman in town who did, and she was always looking for new student pilots.
Well of course, Zach was ecstatic! "Really? Would you George? That'd be awesome! How much are lessons?"
"Now, you'll have to discuss that with Beth. I expect she charges about twenty-five an hour, but she might be willing to give you a break since you're workin' for me. As far as the rental fee, well, I'd normally ask another twenty-five an hour, but I'd be willing to make you a deal on that."
"Um, how many hours of training will I need before I can take the test for my license?"
"Well, first of all, you know you can't take the test 'til you're seventeen. As far as how many hours you'd need, I guess that depends on how good a student you are. There's a lot of bookwork that goes along with the flying, but you seem to have a pretty good head on your shoulders, so maybe thirty-five hours, maybe more, maybe less. And you need to understand that Beth ain't gonna do this on credit. You gotta have the cash on hand for every lesson."
"Um, is it the same on the rental fee? Do I need to give you cash every time I use the plane?"
"Like I said, we might be able to work out a deal on that. You could work off that fee here in the shop at, say, ten bucks an hour. If you had a lesson scheduled, I'd just deduct the rental fee from your paycheck. Now, if you do good work and take real good care of the plane, that rental fee could be applied to the purchase price. Once you get your license, I'll let you have the 150 for what I paid, twenty thousand. How does that sound?"
"You mean it could really be mine some day!? Damn, George, I'm ready! Can you call Beth, 'cause I've got some money saved up at the bank? I'm ready to start right now!"
The lanky old mechanic chuckled and shook his head, "No, you're not, Zach. You're still a minor, so you need written permission from your folks to sit in that left seat. Now, you know I'll stand behind you, but if your dad and mom say no, it ain't gonna happen."
It turns out getting his dad to agree was a lot easier than getting his mom onboard. Mr. Greene had always wanted to learn to fly, but just never got around to it. Mrs. Greene, on the other hand, saw flying as a fast track to a short lifespan for her only child. She was dead set against it, and even George couldn't sway her.
Zach was beginning to think he'd have to wait until he was eighteen and allowed to make his own decisions, but then he got help from an unexpected source. At George's request, the woman who would be teaching him to fly, Beth Allerton, dropped by the house one afternoon and invited his mom to go on a short flight around the town with her. They knew each other from community social events. Mrs. Greene wasn't any too anxious to leave good old terra firma, but with a little coaxing (and teasing) from her husband, she reluctantly agreed.
Zach wanted to go too, but Beth said this trip was for ladies only. He watched in envy as the blue and white Cherokee 180 lifted off the runway and banked left. He stood on the apron and watched the whole flight, four circuits around the town. He never found out what Beth said to his mom, but when they landed and she stepped off the wing and onto the concrete apron, she just nodded at him and said, "OK, you can do it, but if you kill yourself, I'll never speak to you again!"
Beth's day job was as a loan officer at First Bank. Her late husband worked at the grain elevator until he lost his footing one day and got buried under tons of corn. He was only twenty-six, and Beth was pregnant when he died. That was a few years back, and she never remarried. As far as anyone knew, she hadn't even been out on a date, although it wasn't for lack of interested men. Beth was a real looker; mid-thirties, maybe a hundred and thirty pounds, five foot eight. She had startlingly pale blue eyes and coal black hair, a contrast that really made her pretty face stand out in a crowd.
She'd been taught to fly by her father who flew business jets for an oil and drilling company. When she was still in her early twenties, she wanted to be an airline pilot, but drifted away from that idea after she got knocked up, knowing she couldn't be a good mom and manage all that training at the same time. That's when she went ahead and got her instructor's rating and started teaching some of the locals. Teaching and doing check rides was good part-time income, and a necessity after she lost her husband. She'd been doing it for almost ten years, now.
After Zach's mom drove away, Beth sat with him in George's office and talked to him about the flying lessons. She said she'd heard lots of good things about him from George, and hoped they could work something out. She agreed to twenty bucks an hour for the lessons, since she wouldn't be using her own plane.
Before they parted, she warned Zach that she intended to be very demanding when it came to keeping up with the bookwork. He'd have to master each assigned lesson before she'd allow the plane to leave the ground. He'd have to have all the calculations for weight, balance and fuel requirements done prior to the beginning of each lesson. She handed him his workbook and showed him how to do the calculations, then she gave him his first log book and showed him how to make the entries. She'd inspect it before every flight. They shook hands and made a date to meet at seven-thirty sharp the next morning for his first lesson.
George called the owner of the 150 and told him the check was in the mail.
Zach might have been obsessed with flying, but not so much so that he forsook a normal, teenage life. He was a hell of a basketball player as well as first-string wide receiver on the football team. He had a fairly active social life as well, dating several girls in his class, although he hadn't managed to lose his virginity yet. It was second on his to-do list, right after learning to fly. In fact, he'd vowed to accomplish both before the end of the up-coming junior year.
As far as looks go, maybe he was no Adonis, but he wasn't repulsive by any means. At just over six feet tall, his long legs were a little inconvenient in the 150, but he was more than willing to suffer through it. Anyhow, between the basketball, the football and working out with weights a couple of times a week, he looked damn good, and he was proud of what he saw when he checked himself out in the full-length mirror mounted on the inside of his bedroom door. Maybe it was vain of him, but he liked to stand in front of it as he jerked off, turning to get different views of himself and his impressive penis. He hadn't had a chance to impress any of his dates with it yet, but it was only a matter of time.
That night, after Beth agreed to take him on as a student, he actually had a wet dream involving her statuesque body. Of course, what he dreamed couldn't happen in a million years, but her imagined body proved to be fodder for many a pleasant jerk-off session.
The morning of his first lesson, he got up early to shower and shave the fine, dark fuzz just starting to sprout on his upper lip and chin. He even snuck a little splash of his dad's aftershave. He'd learn after his first lesson that strong aromas aren't appreciated in tight spaces like small aircraft cabins. The clean smell of soap is good, reeking of English Leather is not.
George had given him keys to the hangar and the pilot's lounge, so Zach opened everything up about six thirty and got some coffee brewing while he reviewed his first lesson. George got there at seven, as usual, and Beth showed up at seven thirty, dressed out in jeans, low-cut boots, and a light sweater that complimented her shape very nicely. She carried two headsets, a fancy Bose for herself and an older Dave Clark model for her student.
She poured herself a cup of coffee and checked over his first lesson. "Good job, Zach. Now compute this: I weigh a hundred and thirty three pounds. I'm going to stow a bag weighing forty pounds behind the seats. Lets say the 150 burns six and a half gallons per hour and cruises at a hundred and ten miles per hour. Today, the wind is out of the north at eight knots. At standard temperature and pressure, calculate true air speed, center of gravity and how much fuel we need to fly a two hundred mile round trip.
Zach got out the flight calculator that George had given him and went to work. He had it all figured out in just a couple of minutes. Apparently, he was much better at math than his report card indicated, when he could apply it to something he was interested in.
Beth looked it over and gave him a pat on the back. "Good job again. Now, go pull that thing out of the hangar and we'll pre-flight it. Before I leave today, we'll talk a little bit about navigation."
Zach beamed at the praise and headed for the hangar. She was charmed by the kid's enthusiasm as well as his boyish good looks. She thought in passing, that if she were a high school girl, she'd probably be mooning over him.
Showing him how to preflight an airplane took another fifteen minutes. The first hour was half over and they hadn't even sat in the plane yet. Zach had to adjust his expectations because it was looking like they probably wouldn't fly on his first day.
After sumping the fuel and a careful inspection, they climbed into the plane, Zach taking the left seat. Step by step, Beth led him through the startup procedure. What a thrill it was when the engine turned over and he could sit in the pilot's seat and look through the spinning prop.
"OK," Beth instructed, "We're going to taxi around the tarmac for a few minutes so you can get used to steering it on the ground. This is tricycle gear, so you can turn the nose wheel with the pedals, but you still need to keep your hands on the yoke to adjust for the wind. If we were sitting in a tail-dragger, you'd have to steer with the rudder, and that's a little trickier. Go ahead and crank up the RPMs and let's do some figure eights. Oh, one other thing; any time you hear me say 'Give me the plane', take your hands and feet off the controls immediately! Understand?"
It took him about ten minutes of learning to steer with his feet to get the hang of making the little plane go where he wanted it to go. Learning how to apply the brakes got a few jolts and laughs from both of them.
Beth pointed to the taxiway and said, "OK, now lets head out to the end of the runway. We'll park there while we do an engine run-up and go over the pre-takeoff check list."
Zach steered the little plane down the taxiway, veering off the centerline from time to time, but generally doing OK. When they reached the runway, they stopped at the double solid and dashed lines. He picked up his little book and read off the engine run-up procedure.
When he'd completed everything on the list, he looked at Beth and asked, "Should I taxi back to the hangar now?"
"No, go ahead and point the nose down the runway so you can get a good look at what you have to work with. Make sure you look both ways before you move onto the runway. It'd be really tacky to pull out in front of a landing or departing aircraft, wouldn't it? Now, this runway is just over sixty-five hundred feet. Think you could get off the ground before you got to the end?"
He laughed, "Of course. Jeez, they can take off a small jet on this runway!"
"Then do it."
"You mean now?"
"I don't mean tomorrow!" With that, she reached over and pushed the throttle all the way in, and the little Cessna began rapidly picking up speed. "Keep your eyes on the end of the runway, your hands on the yoke and your feet on the pedals! Don't over-steer!"
Zach's eyes moved back and forth from the outside view to the instruments, watching the speed climb to fifty, then fifty-five before they'd used up even a quarter of the runway.
Beth had her hands and feet ready to take over if he did something screwy. "OK, now pull back gently on the yoke 'til you feel the nose wheel lift off. When you're about twenty feet off the runway, nose over just a touch and maintain a steady rate of climb. Keep your nose pointed at the end of the runway."
Zach felt his heart racing as he realized he was actually flying the airplane! "When do I turn?"
"When I say to. You're doing great, so just keep going." The end of the runway passed under them. "Ok, gently bank to the left, and use the rudder to keep the ball in the center. Good! Good! Now, bring it back level and keep climbing to fifteen hundred feet."
They flew two boxes around the airport before Beth took over and landed so smoothly you could hardly feel the touchdown. Zach was thrilled, but sweating bullets. She allowed him to taxi to the hangar and shut it down. When the prop stopped spinning, she turned to her student and asked, "So, whadda ya think, Ace? You still wanna be a pilot?"
He about split his face, grinning from ear to ear. "When's my next lesson?"
The kid was born to fly. Beth told George he just had a natural feel for the plane, seeming to understand what it could and couldn't do intuitively and without any detailed explanations. Before his solo, they managed three lessons a week. He was probably ready to solo in ten hours, but Beth insisted on fifteen, just to be safe.
On that day, he was told to wear an old shirt. He couldn't figure out what that was all about, but he did as he was told. Beth stood back and watched as he did his calculations, checked out the aircraft, taxied to the runway, did his engine run-up and took off. She and George stood in front of the hangar and watched as he flew twice around the airport and landed with only the slightest bounce.
Zach was all smiles as he stepped out of the little 150 and got a big hug from his instructor. She kissed him on the cheek and said, "OK, now turn around."
He looked at her in question, shrugged and did as she asked. He heard 'snip, snip, snip', and felt cool air on his back.
"OK, you're official! You can turn around."
When he did, she handed him the cut out back of his shirt and a certificate, and said, "Hang them on your wall. The back of your shirt is your official flag to commemorate your solo flight."
They all laughed and George handed him a soda. He was now cleared to fly the 150 within a fifty-mile radius of the airport, whenever he could afford the rental fee and fuel.
Zach worked as many hours as he could squeeze in, and his cash reserves stayed well ahead of the fees, so he got in at least four solo hours a week plus two hours with Beth on the weekends. Aside from the lessons, he just liked being with her, kind of a schoolboy crush on the teacher thing. He sensed she liked him a lot, too.
By mid-August, he was ready for his dual cross-country flight with his instructor. His plan was to fly to a medium size municipal airport about a hundred and twenty miles north, land and refuel, take off and fly to a smaller county airport about sixty miles west. There, they'd take a half hour break before heading back home.
Beth had a surprise planned. She'd been thinking about it since the first lesson, and now she felt the time was right. She was positive she hadn't misread Zach's crush on her.
Before leaving on the first leg, Zach went over his calculations with Beth, topped off the tanks, got his weather clearance, and filed his flight plan. It was just after seven AM when they lifted off.
At six thousand feet, he contacted flight control and got instructions to climb and maintain eight thousand feet. He was given a squawk frequency and told to contact the tower and check in with flight control when he was thirty miles out from his destination.
It was a cool morning and the air was stable, so there was almost no turbulence. With only a slight headwind, it took about an hour and a half to reach their first stop. Zach handled the plane like a pro, staying right on course and identifying all the landmarks he'd marked on his map. Beth wouldn't allow him to use his hand-held GPS on this first trip.
Everything went beautifully, in Beth's opinion. From the second airport, heading back home, the ground was heating up, causing some light to moderate turbulence, but it didn't seem to bother Zach at all, even though he bumped his head against the headliner a couple of times. He just laughed it off. Most students would have had a bad case of white-knuckle syndrome with that much bouncing around.
When he was five miles out and had the airport in sight, he contacted flight control to cancel his flight plan and began his descent. As he was maneuvering the plane to enter the landing pattern, Beth told him to overfly the airport and continue east.
He didn't know what she had in mind, but he did as he was told. A few miles east of the airport, Beth pointed to a dirt road about a mile and a half off, and asked, "Can you land on that road?" At the same time, she reached over and throttled the engine back to idle.
Zach wasn't totally surprised, since he'd been warned by a couple of people that she'd simulate a power loss and an emergency landing sooner or later. He pointed his nose directly at the road and set his trim for maximum glide slope. He knew he'd make the road with plenty of room to spare, but there were telephone poles along one side and he knew he didn't dare drift from center.
Not a problem! He set the 150 down smoothly, expecting her to tell him to power up and take off, doing a touch and go. But she didn't. They drifted down the dirt road to an area where there was a small wooded area with a clearing facing the road. She asked him to taxi into the clearing, turn the plane to face the road and kill the engine.
When the prop came to a stop, she reached behind the seat and grabbed a bag she'd stowed before they left. "Come on, Zach! Let's have a picnic to celebrate your cross-country. You did a great job!"
"All right! Thanks, Beth! I'm about half starved."
They found a grassy spot and got comfortable. In the bag, there was a thermos of coffee, two ham and cheese on rye sandwiches, chips, a couple of apples and a small bottle of champagne, still cool in an insulated wrap. It was brought along to celebrate his success.
As she opened the champagne, she said, "Now, don't you go telling your folks I gave you wine, or they'll have the law on me."
"No Ma'am! My lips are sealed!"
She emptied the bottle into two plastic cups and handed him one, offering a toast, "Here's to a very successful first cross country. I can already tell you're gonna be one helluva pilot, Zach."
They touched cups and sipped the cool bubbly. "Thanks, Beth. I couldn't have done it without the best instructor in the territory."
"Eh! You'd have done fine with any instructor, but I'll be happy to take some of the credit. Your solo cross country in two weeks should go just as smoothly."
"I feel like I'm ready now!"
She laughed at his enthusiasm. "Maybe so, but you need to take your time and plan it out very carefully. Besides, there are a couple more things we need to cover before you head off by yourself on a long flight."
They were both hungry and made short work of the sandwiches while they discussed every aspect of the cross-country flight. She praised his map reading skills and suggested he do his solo cross-country the same way. GPS and instrument navigation would eventually be the standard, but seat-of-the-pants flying was a skill he should practice and master before he became too reliant on sophisticated navigation avionics.
Beth leaned back on her elbows and eyed her handsome student, trying to work up the courage to turn the conversation to her objective. It was her intention to seduce him, and her tactic wasn't particularly subtle. She hadn't had a man for ages, and a young guy like Zach seemed like a good way to satisfy that need without getting herself into any long-term entanglements.
"So, Zach, you got a lot of girl friends around town?"
"Um, not really. I mean I've dated some, but nobody steady. I guess there's plenty of time for that. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason in particular. It's just that you're so nice and such a good-looking guy, I just assumed girls were hanging all over you."
He chuckled, "Well, thanks for the compliment, but girls are definitely not hanging all over me. Anyway, most of them think I'm boring because I'm always talking about airplanes and flying and stuff. I guess I am kind of a motor mouth sometimes."
"Not at all! I was the same way when I was your age. Flying was about all I was interested in. So, you're saying you don't have a lot of experience with girls, then."
He shrugged, "No, not a lot. But I don't suppose there's any big rush, either. Getting my private license is at the top of my agenda, but girls are definitely a close second."
She didn't think she'd get a better chance. It was the right topic of discussion, the right circumstance, and a better opportunity might not ever present itself. She knew it was a little risky, the boy being only sixteen, but Beth had been without a man for so long that she thought it was a risk worth taking.
She drank down the last of her champagne and agreed, "Well, I think you're going about it the right way, Zach. Set your priorities and stick to them." Then she sat up, leaned forward, and laid her hand on his thigh, close enough to her objective that he could hardly imagine it was unintentional. "You know, it is possible to manage both of those goals at the same time."
While his mind went into overdrive hoping her touch meant what he wanted it to mean, he carried neither the experience nor the self-confidence to assume anything. He felt a little tightness in his chest. He could only hope, as the warmth of her touch caused a sudden swelling in his crotch. He gaped at her hand and stammered, "Uh, how do you mean?"
She looked into his innocent, trusting eyes. "Well Zach, it's just that... , " And all of a sudden, she had cold feet. She was in a position of trust, and she was about to abuse it, about to prey on this sweet, vulnerable kid to satisfy her own itch. It wasn't right! She pulled her hand back and said, "Um, never mind. Forget I said that, OK?"
He saw the flush on her face and his heart sank, wondering what he'd done to embarrass her. Maybe he'd misread the whole thing! He couldn't think of anything to say, so he began to gather up the remains of their lunch and stuff it into the bag. "I guess we better get back to the airport. George will be wondering what happened to us."
Beth didn't know whether to feel relieved or angry at herself for chickening out. "Yeah, we should. Tell you what, why don't you show me a nice short field takeoff?"
Zach worked himself hard over the next two weeks. He flew any time he could manage the free time and the money. He mapped out his route for the solo cross-country and noted every landmark along the way. He checked, double checked and triple checked the little 150 to insure it was in tip-top condition. The only unknown was the weather, and the long range forecast was promising.
He had two more lessons with Beth before the big day. Several times, he almost came right out and asked her about that moment at the picnic, but the more time that went by, the less confident he was that he'd read her correctly, that she was coming on to him. He didn't dare say or do anything suggestive of how he felt about her. Now, she acted as if nothing happened at all.
On cross-country day, the weather turned out to be cool and blustery, but still VFR conditions. There were thunderstorms predicted for the late afternoon, but he should be back hours before they moved in. He got to the airport at the crack of dawn and went over his planned schedule, recalculating everything one last time before calling for weather clearance and filing his flight plan.
This time, when he took off, he turned southwest toward his first stop, a city of about fifty thousand with a nice size airport. He contacted flight control, activated his flight plan, got his squawk and climbed to seven thousand feet as he was directed. He made great time on the first leg because he had a twenty-five knot tail wind. The ride was a little bumpy, but not too bad, all things considered.
He didn't waste any time before taking off toward his second destination because he didn't want to fight the deteriorating weather conditions on his way home. He refueled at the second stop and headed straight for home base. He was advised by the weather service to expect some turbulence ahead of the frontal system moving in.
He was only forty miles out when he got into some turbulence that made him feel like the wings of the little plane were about rip off. He called flight services and told them how bad it was and asked for a different altitude. He was expecting to go lower, but they directed him to climb to ten thousand feet and report any turbulence he encountered. At that altitude, it actually smoothed out a little bit, but it was still bumpy enough to be uncomfortable.
Overall, the little 150 performed very well in spite of being tossed around the sky like a kite. As much as Zach loved flying, he was mightily relieved when he finally had the county airport in sight and called flight services to cancel his flight plan and descended to enter the landing pattern.
Beth was standing outside the hangar to watch him make his landing in a stiff, fifteen-knot crosswind. She couldn't have been more proud to see the little plane crab perfectly into the wind and settle onto the runway with hardly more than a little bounce. Zach taxied to the hangar and killed the engine. The moment he stepped out of the cabin, Beth had him locked up in a big hug.
She smiled, kissed him on the cheek and said, "Let's get this thing into the hangar and out of the weather, shall we?"
"You bet! I gotta tell you, I'm pooped! That was my bumpiest ride so far."
"I'll bet it was. In fact, I was surprised you decided to go at all, with that front moving in."
"I was pretty sure I could beat it. Anyhow, I'd have set it down in somebody's field before I tried to ride out a thunderstorm. I want to live long enough to get my license. And then there's the girl thing." He felt himself blushing and thought, Now, why did I say that?
"The girl thing?"
"Oh, uh, nothing. It's just a promise I made to myself a while back." He needed to change the topic. "You want to debrief me now or wait until our next lesson?"
"I'm here, so let's do it now."
"Yeah, I wondered about that. How come you're not at work?"
"I took a personal day because I wanted to be here when you got back. I've got a lot of time and effort invested in you."
George was in the office sipping a cup of coffee when they entered. "Hey, Zach, big day! How was your flight?"
"Pretty damn bumpy and windy, but I loved every minute of it. Looks like I beat the bad weather by at least a couple of hours."
"Good, good! Well, I got nothin' goin' today, so you might as well take the rest of the day off and get some rest. Got a beautiful little Pitts Model 12 comin' in tomorrow for an annual. You'll wanna see that 'cause it's a fine aerobatic craft. If you're lucky, the owner might take you up for some loop-de-loops before I tear into it."
Any fatigue Zach might have been feeling evaporated. "A Pitts 12? Jeez, do you think he might? That'd be just amazing, George!"
"Well, it wouldn't hurt to ask, would it? Anyhow, he's an old friend and he owes me a favor or two. I'm expecting him about eight."
"I'll be here!"
Beth patted Zach on the butt and said, "Lucky you! I've flown a Pitts 12, and you can take my word that it's one sweet little powerhouse. Prepare to leave your stomach behind if the guy does any real aerobatics. Now, let's get this debriefing done and your solo cross-country logged in, OK?"
The feel of Beth's hand on his butt was a thrill in it's own right, but Zach wasn't about to say anything.
By the time they finished hashing out every aspect of the cross-country flight, the weather had begun moving in and a light rain was coming down. Beth offered to take him home and he accepted, loading his bike into the back of her 4-Runner. As they turned onto the highway from the airport, she asked if he was up for some lunch.
"Yeah, now that you mention it. Coming back, I guess my stomach was tied up in knots with all that bumping around the sky, but now I feel like I could eat a horse."
"Good, because I've got a pot of chili I can heat up. Maybe that and a stack of hot tortillas will fill you up. Your mom's not expecting you for lunch, is she?"
"No, she wouldn't have had any idea when to expect me. The chili and tortillas sound super." A choice between lunch with Beth, or lunch with his mom was no choice at all. He'd have eaten fried worms if that was what she offered.
On the way to Beth's house, they talked more about the flight and she told him about some of the things he might experience if he got to go up in the Pitts. She even explained in detail how to do some of the standard aerobatic maneuvers. Zach hoped he'd get a chance to try one or two of them.
He sat at the kitchen table while she heated up the chili and wrapped half a dozen tortillas in foil to warm in the oven. Her chili was awesome, even better than his mom's, and that was saying something.
The lunch filled him up, two big bowls of chili and four of the tortillas. As Beth cleared the table, Zach thought about that day two weeks earlier. Maybe it was because he was feeling so high about completing his cross-country solo, or maybe it was just sitting in her kitchen watching her shapely, jeans-clad backside as she bustled about, but both his confidence and his horniness rose to a level where he felt willing to chance asking her about it.
"Um, Beth, the day we had the picnic, uh, were we about to do something? I mean, it seemed like something was about to happen, but then you changed your mind. Was it something I did? Did I mess it up?"
She looked at him for a moment, searching his eyes, then finished loading the dishwasher without saying anything. He thought he might have crossed a forbidden line.
She dried her hands and pulled a chair over next to his and sat down, taking his hands in hers. "You didn't mess anything up, Zach. I was about to make a big mistake, but then my rational brain caught up to my animal brain and stopped it. You know what was about to happen, don't you?"
"I think I do. I was sure hoping it would happen."
"You're sixteen, Zach. I'm thirty-four. I'm your teacher and you're my student. What I was about to do was totally inappropriate; hell, it's illegal! It just can't happen."
To Zach's mind, that wasn't fair at all! "But what if I want it to happen? I'm not a kid any more, Beth. Jeez, I flew an airplane two hundred and eighty miles by myself today! Doesn't that mean anything?"
"Of course it does! You're very mature in a lot of ways, Zach, just not in the legal way, not in this state anyway. If your folks ever learned we had sex, they could have me prosecuted."