Still on Cloud 9—After Flying a Plane Over Princeton, NJ!

Me during flying lesson

Ever wonder what it’s like to fly an airplane? To actually be the pilot…to taxi, take off and maybe even steer the plane once you’re airborne?

I had the opportunity to do all of the above one week ago and must say–it was a great experience! And I think–excuse the pun–that I’m still flying high now!

Here’s a post re: an introductory flying lesson that I took compliments of Cloud9Living (full disclaimer below), a cool company based in Boulder, CO, that offers ‘experience gifts’ (eg, driving a race car, playing golf with a pro, going on an Illuminati hunt, etc.) to it customers. Mine happened to be in New Jersey, but these types of experiences are possible just about anywhere in the country.


For at least a week before my lesson, I felt excited at the mere anticipation of the big day. I’m no stranger to small planes (I flew into the Amazon on a tiny one and flew over the Nazca lines of Peru on an even smaller one) and of course, know what it’s like to be a passenger. But to handle some of the controls? To take off and perhaps do more?

Wow, I thought several times during the week, my heart fluttering in sweet anticipation--this is going to be exciting!

The Big Day

Great Weather + a Fun/New Friend

The big day came, and I woke up feeling happy for many reasons, one of which was the perfect weather. Blue sky, 63 degrees and very light wind. Just right. (By the way, I was supposed to go a week earlier—post-Hurrianne Sandy–but had to postpone because the wind was 30 mph).

I’d invited a new friend, a Romanian man named Robert who was visiting my landlords, whom I met randomly in the hallway, about a week ago. (Story about our ‘reverse couch surfing’ experience coming soon.) I thought it would be fun to show him some of New Jersey, especially Princeton. He gladly accepted my invitation.

Robert--Romanian Friend

Robert–Romanian Friend

Kayaking, Then Flying

So we set off in the morning for a tour of North Jersey, then headed to Princeton in Central Jersey. We went kayaking and then headed to the airport, which was several miles away. When we pulled in and I saw the small planes, I felt a mini adrenaline rush.

Was I really going to be flying one of them. Which one, I wondered…

Airplanes on the Tarmac

Meeting John, My Teacher & Skyhawk, the Plane

Within a few minutes of checking in, I met ‘John,’ a pilot and my teacher. He was a cool dude, no doubt, who had been flying for years. He knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was a kid and for him, flying a plane is only slightly harder than breathing…


After doing a little paperwork, we went outside and checked out the plane, a small Cessna. I liked it right away. Part of the reason was its name. Skyhawk. Sounded good to me.

Of course, I had to pose next to it. :)

Posing Next to the Skyhawk (Princeton Airport, 11/11/12)

Posing Next to the Skyhawk

Instruments, Gauges and Monitors–Oh My!

Then, I took a peek inside and thought—wow, look at all of those instruments and controls, etc. It was a tiny bit intimidating at first.

Inside the Cockpit

Inside the Cockpit

Instruments Inside the Cockpit

John–Cool as a Cucumber

But then, when we got inside the plane and I saw John looking calm and as cool as cucumber, I relaxed. He explained the basics, a couple of which I instantly forgot (since there are lots of things to know). But it was no problem at all. He was patient and didn’t mind re-explaining; he was eager to answer my questions.

He then had me start up the plane, which was…interesting. Sure, you use a key, which is similar to what you do in a car, but it’s somewhat different. I recall having to sort of ‘give it gas’ while turning the key left, then right, then both both ways. After a couple attempts, the plane started up!

John, my flying instructor

Then, to my surprise, we used foot pedals to steer it. Not the steering wheel–aka, the ‘pilot’s wheel’. (That’s for when you’re up in the air.) We moved on to the runway and we–actually, I did a good amount of this–taxied for a bit. Easy so far.

“By the way,” John said, “you’re going to be handling the take-off.”

“What? Me? Really?”

Me–Giddy as a School Girl

Knowing that I was going to be doing something so important got the adrenaline going once again. And know what? I loved it. I felt as giddy as a school girl on a first date. In this case, it was a first flight!

John was a great teacher. Not only did he know his stuff, but he was patient. I did exactly as he told me….pulled on the choke, then pulled back on the pilot’s wheel and shortly thereafter, we were airborne! Woo hoo!

It was so exciting that I almost couldn’t contain myself.


As we began to climb, John took charge. He explained more of the basics—like how it’s possible for a plane to fly through thick clouds/limited visibility. To know what the heck is going on, just check the altitude indicator (seen below).

Altitude Indicator

Altitude Indicator

Shortly thereafter, we reached a comfortable altitude. A couple thousand feet. Later, we went up higher–to about 4000 feet (sorry, metric system followers.) :) And when either of us spoke, we sounded just like pilots. You know, that mellowed out voice you hear when you’re flying. (Just kidding—we sounded the same as before.)

Cruising Fast or Slow?

What blew my mind was how slowly it seemed we were going. I’ve felt that in large planes, of course, but in the small one, I didn’t expect it. Although we were doing about 100 mph, it felt like only 30. And that was a little bit surreal.

Also, I felt much more connected to the air–closer to it and more a part of it–than in a larger plane. This was rather cool as it reminded me of kayaking in some way. When I’m in a kayak, I feel that I’m truly in and at one with the water. In a small plane, I felt that way about the air.

Looking out the windows and down below was enjoyable because I know Central New Jersey pretty well. When John pointed out landmarks, I recognized some of them. The second photo, from what I recall, is of the Parkway/Raritan Bridge and the Raritan River.

View from my side of the plane

View from my side of the plane

Flying Over Central New Jersey

Flying Over Central New Jersey

Steering the Plane

I learned how to steer the plane, and I must say that I rather liked it. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. The key is to not keep the wheel turned too far in one direction–to put it back to neutral after you’ve begun to move in the direction you’ve chosen. If you leave it turned too much in one direction, you might over-steer and go in a circle.

If this happens, you don’t need to worry. Everything is fine because the teacher instantly takes over and gets you back on track.

‘The Plane (Sort of) Flies Itself’

According to John, for the most part, “the plane ‘flies itself’.” And in some ways, it did seem this was true. Once we were in the air, we didn’t do all that much. It was mostly during the takeoff and landing that we had to work at it. In the video below, that’s pretty much what I say. (Sorry if you can’t hear me very well; the roar of the engine is quite loud!)


We talked about landing and he explained how much harder it is than taking off, which made sense to me. Many things have to be taken into consideration. He said that if a student continued with lessons, they would learn that later on. (Believe me, I’d love to take a few more lessons and perhaps give it a shot!)

He showed me some of Central New Jersey—the countryside and the more urban areas—as well as the Delaware River. It was all fascinating to see from the sky, too, because I know it best on the ground.

“Want to land at a larger airport—one with air traffic control?” he asked.

“Sure, why not?” I said.

Within minutes, we approached, then landed in, Trenton. This was a very different experience because he had to make contact with air traffic control. They spoke via radio and soon, the landing strip was in sight. Minutes later, after choosing the appropriate approach speed, we were landing.

A Second Takeoff

John handled the landing and it was a good one. Smooth. We didn’t stay too long and then took off once again. And I got to be in charge of it. It was just as much fun the second time, by the way! I did some more steering and he explained more of what’s required to do certain things and then we made our way back to Princeton.

Along the way, we got to know each other. This was fun, too, as John’s an interesting guy. He’s going to be serving in the Army soon, first attending officer training school and then flying helicopters. He’ll obviously be great at it.

Back on the Ground

Post-Flying…Plenty of Smiling

Still Flying High After the Flight
After we landed, I still felt great. A little high, in fact. I think it was the after-effects of the adrenaline rush. And the wonderful feeling did not wear off for a long time. (Unfortunately, my friend Robert wasn’t allowed to be in the plane; nor was he able to schedule his own lesson.) We went to downtown Princeton and hung out at Small World Coffee and chatted about politics and history and all the while, I still felt sort of giddy.

Experience–One of the Best Gifts

Giving the gift of an experience is powerful and memorable, according to many sources, including Happiness Guru Dan Buettner. He says that “the newness from a new thing wears off in about 9-to-14 months whereas a good memory will gain luster over time.”

I believe this–and I’m sure I’ll look back on this day fondly for a very long time. I truly loved taking this introductory flying lesson; it was both exciting and fun.

Another reason this philosophy resonates with me is that I’m a world traveler. As such, I naturally tend to spend my money on experiencing the world (vs buying material things).

9 Days of Christmas Contest

By the way, Cloud 9 Living has many wonderful ‘experience gifts’ you can get for your friends or family–everything from driving a dragster or stock car to flying a helicopter and or going on a scavenger hunt. Like the way this sounds? Then check out and sign up for their special contest called the ‘9 Days of Christmas‘. The Grand Prize is a chance to be a Fighter Pilot for the Day.

The contest starts on Nov. 19 and runs through Dec. 23. Between Dec. 16 and 24, a winner will be announced each day. Check out the contest website for more details on prizes.

Disclosure: The flying lesson I’ve described was gifted to me by Cloud 9 Living in exchange for this review. There was no monetary compensation, however, and the ideas and opinions are my own.

Your Thoughts/Reactions/Experiences?

Have you ever taken a flying lesson? Did you just go for the introductory one or did you continue studying it? Would you like to get a pilot’s license?

If you haven’t done this, would you like to? Why or why not?

I might want to take some more lessons and PS: I’m definitely going to enter Cloud 9’s contest. The reason? I’d like to be a fighter pilot for a day. I think that would be beyond exciting! :)

25 Responses to Still on Cloud 9—After Flying a Plane Over Princeton, NJ!
  1. Maria
    November 18, 2012 | 10:18 pm

    it’s the BEST rush/high and it lasts for HOURS after you land. Better than sex. The one element I found most challenging was the foot work when on the ground. Very sensitive pedals and the slightest pressure can take you into far left field (literally) *laugh* Glad you had the experience, lived to tell us and thoroughly enjoyed yourself.
    Maria recently posted..21 Linear FeetMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 18, 2012 | 11:12 pm

      Hi, Maria–yes, an incredible high! I know what you mean about the foot work. You’re so right about how sensitive they are. Cool that you’re into flying, too. Just remembered–the name of your site is…Accelerated Stall. Ha! :)

      Thanks for reading the story!

  2. Andrea
    November 19, 2012 | 4:08 am

    Uh, WOW! This is so exciting!! So impressive…well done =)
    Andrea recently posted..Darwin and Kakadu: Beauty Overcomes the Beast (Photo Essay)My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 19, 2012 | 8:19 am

      Thanks so much, Andrea! It was really fun…perhaps I’ll take another lesson or two in the future.

  3. giovani
    November 19, 2012 | 11:32 pm

    Wow. You surprise me and left me feeling astonished. Congrats on your new adventure! By the way, how much does it cost and how hard is it? I would like to try.

    • CB Driver
      November 20, 2012 | 12:32 am

      Thanks, Giovanni! I think it’s somewhere between $100 and $175 per lesson, but I’m not sure. I hope you get to try it sometime!!

  4. Gray
    November 20, 2012 | 12:26 pm

    That looks like a blast, Lisa! When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to learn to fly a helicopter, but after awhile, I realized my vision is too poor to ever pilot anything up in the air. But man, that looks like fun!
    Gray recently posted..Odds and EndsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 21, 2012 | 8:30 pm

      Hi, Gray…yes, definitely a blast–especially the takeoff! :) Ooh…a helicopter. That sounds like fun! With your glasses, it would still be problematic to fly? That’s a bummer…

  5. Leektone
    November 21, 2012 | 7:39 pm

    That sure must have been a great experience. I have always wanted to fly a plane. Would you consider flying me home from work one night?

    • CB Driver
      November 21, 2012 | 8:32 pm

      Hello, Señor Leektono. Sí, it was great. Not sure I can help you with that because JC doesn’t have its own airport. What a shame. You might have to take a train or get a ride from someone. :(

  6. Suzy
    November 24, 2012 | 10:19 pm

    Wow! I have always wanted to get behind the controls of a plane. Whether that’s a good idea or not is another thing. Sounds like a great experience!
    Suzy recently posted..The Meeting of Time, Travel and Money on Back Roads in ArkansasMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 29, 2012 | 9:32 am

      Thanks for the visit, Suzy. It’s quite an experience to take the controls–even if just for a few minutes. I won’t forget what it was like for a long time!

  7. Dyanne@TravelnLass
    November 26, 2012 | 9:05 am

    Woa! Nicely done, girlfriend! Great pics and video, and lots of details. Looks like tons of fun!
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..ROBBED in Vietnam! (a.k.a. Thanksgiving Foolishness)My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 29, 2012 | 9:31 am

      Hey, girl–thanks! I really had fun, which made telling the story easy and enjoyable.

      Uh oh…I just saw your most recent post. Oh no. Will be there shortly to see what happened.

      • Dyanne@TravelnLass
        November 29, 2012 | 10:11 am

        Say what? You’ Are you coming to Vietnam???
        Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Thai Hill Tribe BrothersMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          November 29, 2012 | 11:11 am

          Ha, ha–I wish. I’d love to visit Vietnam!

  8. Charu
    November 28, 2012 | 1:55 pm

    Aww, SO glad you had a great time! You know Matt is a flight instructor, right? He can carry the cloud 9 feeling for you anytime :)
    Charu recently posted..Sweet Tooth: A Dessert Walking Tour on New York City’s Upper West SideMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 29, 2012 | 9:29 am

      Thanks, Charu. It was cool! I do know about Matt and think it would be great to have him as a teacher if I continue learning how to fly. He seems extremely calm and patient, and that would be ideal!

  9. Naomi
    December 1, 2012 | 6:49 pm

    awesome. I love flying in small planes, except when there’s thermals that throw you around. I used to fly regularly when I worked out in remote parts of the Northern Territory and the pilots would let me take the controls for a while. Steering between the clouds during wet season was always lots of fun. The joke amongst pilots was always that a landing was just a controlled crash that you walked away from!
    Naomi recently posted..And now for the picturesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 2, 2012 | 3:57 pm

      Hi, Naomi. Cool that you have experience flying–wow! Steering between cloud must have been ‘fun’–in that challenging/exciting/adrenaline-rush sort of way!

      As for the landing…hmmm…not sure how I feel about that joke–LOL! :)

  10. Limo VIP Bus
    December 14, 2012 | 7:56 am

    Oh my!
    I am totally envy now.
    That was a very great adventure.
    Hope I could try it some time.
    Was it hard to manuever the plane?

  11. Joey
    January 1, 2013 | 11:49 am

    I love your spirit, and that a woman from NJ with a realatively normal life is still free spirited enough to wage war against the mundane, tried and true,,,and embrace with absolute joy and grace that wild and curious gypsy heart every woman has,,,whether she indulges it or not,,, now how can I be like you???

    • CB Driver
      January 1, 2013 | 12:42 pm

      Hi, Joey. Thanks for the kind and wonderful words. Today is one of those days when hearing feedback like that is just what I needed! Trying to move ahead with a project that’s very time-consuming. I like the idea of ‘waging war against the mundane’–that is awesome!

      PS: Many years ago, I wasn’t as adventurous as I am now. I think it happened gradually, when I started taking some small risks and liking the rush I got from them.

      PPS: How did you come across my blog? Just wondering.

  12. Traveling Ted
    January 6, 2013 | 7:55 am

    How exciting to be able to kayak and fly a plane on the same day. That is one full day.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Feeling like an ass in the Guyana Rupunini SavannahMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 6, 2013 | 6:26 pm

      Thanks, Ted! And the perfect weather made it all the better! :)

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