Getting to Fly Cockpit in Costa Rica

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Do you have a fear of flying? Or a dream get into the cockpit of a plane? Costa Rica’s local airlines use small planes. I got lucky and without hesitation accepted a place to fly in the co-pilot’s seat for a 50 minute flight.

Adventures in Small Things

When I first came to Costa Rica in 2016, we flew to the Osa Peninsula for a Christmas holiday. Nature Air is the nation’s local airline that required each of us stand on a weighing scale with our hand luggage separately from our check-in luggage with strict weight restrictions.  We were amused by this. The planes take no more than 16 people and if you’re lucky only 5 people!

The landing strip was a tiny line of tarmac next to a cemetery just off the Golfito Dulce – deepest gulf waters in the world. We stood next to the plane as they took our bags from the nose of the plane and the back seats. It was fun and we all thought it such an adventure.

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Do you think you might die?

Our return was a less fun experience. A great deal of turbulence meant that it was 50 minutes of being shaken around like a rag in the washing machine. As we got off the plane my legs were shaking and my sister in floods of tears from the fear of dying.

When I told my sister that I was taking this flight again to Osa Peninsula this year, she asked “How can you do that again?! It was so terrifying!” I couldn’t honestly answer her, because she was right. Yet, I knew that this flight was a simple route and the rainy season meant many roads might be flooded if I got the bus – pragmatic, impatient, idiotic…it just seemed natural to me to fly again.

The truth is that after most of a lifetime of depression, I have a loving relationship with death. That desire to be at peace and go home was always so strong. Now that I have found peace in my life and a home in myself, I do not fear my death but accept that the risks I take may make it my time to pass. Yet I know it is not my time so I feel free to take risks.

Climb Over the Plane Wing

We arrive on our bus at San Jose Santamaria airport to our plane. It is tiny! 4 passengers in the back and the pilot turns to me “Do you want to go up front?”. Without thinking I squealed and jumped “Yes!” Instant waves of excitement coursed through my body and I enthusiastically stood at the side wondering what to do. So, I stand like a lemon holding my yoga mat on the runway.

He takes my ‘carry on’ luggage and pops it in the nose of the plane. Gets all the passengers on the plane and says “I have to move the plane first”. Still standing like a lemon on a runway.

Then he signals that it is time to get in. I step onto the plane wing and climb into the right-side of the cockpit. He shows me where my yoga mat is to sit, “Seatbelt on” and then “Pull the latch down to close the door”. We sit. He is looking through Instagram on his iPhone. I am a little concerned, but then decide that he is relaxed so I should be too. He begins pressing buttons, pushing some levers. Loud engine noises sound and I consider if I should wear my earplugs due to my sound sensitivity: no, this is an experience I want in full.

Then we begin to move. Chugging around the runway with periodic Instagram checks.  I want to video it all. We potter around the runway some more going left, going right, right again.  Then suddenly his hand on the lever in the middle pushes up and we get speed. Without noticing the sensation, we are off the ground and in the air. The co-pilot’s steering wheel falls out and into my lap – ‘Oh my god! The plane is a wreck! ...No, we just took off Nid.’

Blind In the Clouds

All night before a tropical storm raged the skies with purple lightening: pure magic to witness and impossible to capture. Thankfully, this has cleared but there are many clouds hanging around the city.

We climb to 7,500 feet to clear the mountains around San Jose and I see us approaching a big pile of white; my sister’s fear comes back to me. ‘Fresh eyes Nid, see this from the pilot’s perspective’ I tell myself.  We enter the white and are blind. All there is to guide the climb are the dials around us in the cockpit. My mind wanders to working out what dials are on both sides of the plane: it’s funny how rational thought can ease fear and get you through them.

Through the clouds and we are along the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica. As we fly down south the waves form ever-changing and constantly shifting patterns on the floor. Fully present and alive to all the sensations of the experience. Bubbling with excitement my body sang inside me thoughts of: ‘I am blessed. Miracles and gifts are abundantly around me. This is going to be amazing and so great for me. How I have changed myself from so deep within. The light always shines for me. I do things I used to fear without hesitation now. I am free.’

Landing

The 50 minutes flew by. Occasionally I see the pilot checking his phone to make calculations, messages or other things. He seems chilled. I recalled the route from the year before and recognised Golfito Dulce, the approach to the tiny landing strip. Out I whip my high-speed video for the cockpit view of a landing. But I hold the camera and my eye line separate, I want to savour the experience for me. Smooth, quick and gentle we land next to the cemetery.

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The pilot signals to me to open the door and I grab my yoga mat, step onto the plane wing to find slightly shaky legs. I hop down to the ground and walk around for my bag. The pilot sees my smile. “Thank you so much. That was amazing and so much fun” I say to him. He smiles, knowing this to be true.

I never would have asked or put flying in a cockpit on my bucket list. Then I realised what this showed me:

In the last year, I have truly opened myself to all my fears to become free.

Once free you get in the cockpit and fly high;

Know your way when blind in the clouds.  

Through the clouds there is beauty all around you,

An ever-changing sea of wonder;

And epic smiles of joy!