The Love Flight That Wasn’t

Are you thinking about learning to fly because your spouse is a pilot? Or, maybe you dream about flying around the country with your husband or wife who also wants to learn to fly.

Sharing the cockpit of a small airplane would be fun, right? Well, the truth is, like all joint efforts that require compromise and cooperation, flying together calls for “cockpit management” techniques (or “spousal management” might be better)…that is, plenty of ongoing discussion about what should or should not be said, or done, while the number-one pilot, or PIC (pilot in command), is at the controls.

My husband and I work hard at being good copilots, and we talk about it before every flight. And, as a result, we really do like to fly together. One of the best reasons we’ve found for both being pilots was demonstrated to us a few years ago on a cross-country flight from California to Vermont in our little two-seat 1946 Cessna 140.

We called it “The Love Flight”— our 25th silver anniversary gift to each other, a month-long trip to the site of our honeymoon. Tom and I were eager to take off into carefree skies with little to concern us except an occasional call to the home office. Wrapping up business and packing to be gone for at least a month is stressful, but I knew the moment we lifted off the ground, it would be worth it.

About one hour into the flight, as Tom steered a course across the Nevada Desert on a clear July morning, my throat felt scratchy. I attributed it to exhaustion, summer heat, and desert dryness, certain that it would all clear up after a good night’s sleep in Ogden, Ut., our first destination.

Well, it didn’t. In fact, by the time we arrived at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh two days later, with Tom at the helm for every leg of the trip, it was a full-blown something. I was wheezing and sneezing and feeling miserable. Despite a prescription and diagnosis from a doctor at a medical clinic on the field, I was still sick a week later.

But we wanted to move on, so Tom continued as Pilot in Command (PIC), and we took off for Harbor Springs, Mich., to visit an old college friend and her family. Our spacious corner guest room had a big view of Lake Michigan, which was good, because I was in bed most of the time.

Four days later, Tom again took the “left seat” and flew us through the Upper Peninsula to Elliot Lake, Ontario, where we waited out weather for three days with new friends who invited us to stay with them. I began to feel the return of my old self. In the meantime, Tom was starting to show similar symptoms of the mystery ailment. The good news was that I was now healthy and could safely fly the 140 on to Stowe, Vt., our next destination. The bad news was that we needed to shorten all visits and keep our germs to ourselves.

Old friends met us at the Morrisville-Stowe airport and, soon after, Tom and I headed off to the medical clinic for yet another diagnosis. We learned that Tom had viral bronchitis and conjunctivitis, for which the doctor prescribed a powerful, cough syrup, with a warning that he shouldn’t fly while taking it. And for me, who had recovered from bronchitis, she prescribed a lighter cough syrup, just in case.

Our plans were changing dramatically. We cancelled the final leg of our trip to Maine and set our sights on home, Truckee, Calif., over 2,000 nautical miles away.

The next important decision was to choose a place where Tom could recover. We called my sister Cindy in Warren, Penn., to ask if we could hide out in her “camp,” a rustic cabin they use for deer hunting. Cindy laughed at the camp idea and insisted we let her nurse Tom back to health at her home.

The following morning, we rose early to a beautiful day. While Tom showered, I decided to take a slug of my cough syrup as a deterrent. The bedroom light was dim, and, as soon as it rolled down my throat, I knew I had mistakenly swallowed Tom’s cough syrup instead of mine. I couldn’t believe it.

In one fell swig, I had screwed up my plans to fly. (Lesson: always put on the reading glasses.) When Tom appeared, I told him what I’d done. He thought a minute, then said, “I won’t take any cough syrup, and I’ll be PIC.” He was contagious but able to think clearly and focus. I was healthy but uncertain of the effects of the cough syrup. It was out-of-the-box thinking, but demonstrated another episode of good cockpit/spousal management.


Lipperts use cockpit/spousal management to arrive safely at Brokenstraw airstrip

As we flew west across the dense forests of Pennsylvania, I felt tremendous relief and joy in being airborne. When we touched down at Brokenstraw, a 2,700-ft. grass strip, and my sister approached the airplane, I knew we were in good hands.

Tom spent most of the next few days in bed. However, one evening after midnight, he, Cindy and I lay on the front lawn, looking for meteor showers that were forecast for that night. Suddenly, the top of the house and surrounding oak trees lit up. Not with meteor showers, but a bright beam of light. “Someone’s spotlighting!” Cindy exclaimed in a loud whisper. “That’s illegal!”

“Spotlighting?” we asked. We learned that poachers use spotlights late at night to find and shoot deer.

The next morning looked to be a beautiful day to celebrate our 25th anniversary. While we sipped our first cup of coffee, Cindy’s husband Jim told us that on his way to the lumberyard he saw the game warden with two handcuffed poachers nearby and a deer carcass in the truck. When Jim stopped to ask him what he does with deer, the warden replied, “We keep the hide, head and horns for evidence, then throw the rest in the dump.” Jim casually suggested that perhaps he and a neighbor could help with the disposal.


A two-pilot family, Tom and Laurel toast their 25th anniversary

That evening, as the August light cast a golden glow on deck overlooking their spacious lawn, we sat down for supper. Cindy had bought flowers and wine for the occasion, and Jim had marinated and grilled a fresh tenderloin. We toasted 25 years together, our family, and the best venison we had ever tasted.

A few days later, we departed Brokenstraw, both healthy and revived. We had spent eight days at Cindy and Jim’s. We had walked in the woods and along the river where they hunt and fish. We visited with their kids and played with their grandchildren. It was truly an unexpected and memorable family reunion.

For nearly four weeks, Tom and I had been afraid to shake hands, much less kiss. But it didn’t matter, because we were lucky to be a two-pilot family and to have shared a “Love Flight” full of unexpected gifts and an anniversary to remember.

I’d love to hear from you. What memories do you hope to have when you learn to fly?

About Laurel

Laurel Lippert is coauthor of You Can Fly! with Greg Brown. It is an inspiring guidebook to understanding and appreciating the process of learning to fly. Laurel began flying at age 40. Over the next ten years, she earned her instrument and multi-engine ratings, as well as her commercial and flight instructor certificates. She has written about flying for Mountain Pilot, Pilot Getaways and Plane & Pilot magazines, as well as for

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  1. Posted March 11, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that you are both pilots. I’d imagine your flights are more safe than most. I would guess that the assisting pilot could help by telling the head pilot (PIC) that he or she looks too tired or doped up on cough medicine to continue flying.

  2. Laurel Lippert
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Dan. I have to correct your perception a little bit. It is the PIC’s responsibility, on any given day, to determine that she or he is medically qualified to fly, not that of her copilot or spouse. For example, if a pilot (who holds a current medical certificate) has a bad cold and feels a little fuzzy or stuffed up, she must decide not to fly as pilot in command. Federal regulations say that a medical condition, which prevents a person from operating an aircraft in a safe manner (even a cold), is reason for “self-grounding.”

  3. Jeanne
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I so enjoyed reading your story of your travels. My husband and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this past summer but didn’t do anything special yet. It is my hope that by the time for our 26th anniversary I will have my pilot’s certificate and be able to fly the two of us somewhere special for the day.

    Twenty five years ago when we got married we left from our wedding and headed from Upsala, MN (central MN) to Brainerd, MN in hopes of finding somewhere to stay on our wedding night. We got to Brainerd only to find everywhere within an hour of Brainerd booked because Paul Newman was in town at the Brainerd International Raceway.

    From there we headed north to our next evening’s destination, Duluth, MN. When we arrived in Duluth we discovered that there was a square dance convention in town and not a room to be found. We filled up with gas in our car and continued up the north shore. Finally at 2:00am, tired and almost out of gas we pulled the car over and spent our wedding night in the car at the Gooseberry Falls rest area.

    We have always been up for an adventure and ready to travel at the drop of hat. I look forward to the possibilities that being able to fly will put in our future. Thanks for sharing your story.

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