By Valentina Cardenas, 14, Ramona Convent HS
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There I was up 4,000 feet when my flight instructor looked at me and asked, "Would you like to try something new?" I was a 12-year-old at the time and totally oblivious to what he was talking about. I watched as he played with a few gadgets and started pulling up on something in the cockpit.

Suddenly sirens screamed in the plane. What was he doing? Were we going to crash? Yikes! He laughed and brought the plane down to its normal position, but I nearly peed in my pants!

Through his laughter, he explained that we had just done a test stall. That means we tested the plane’s reflexes on how fast it reacted to sound the sirens. Once I recovered my peace of mind, I realized it was kind of fun. For our remaining lessons together, I always asked him to stall the plane. I called it the roller coaster.

That’s one of my favorite flying memories. My life in the air started when my dad, who was learning to fly a helicopter at the time, asked if I was interested in taking flying lessons. Of course I said yes. "What a cool sport to learn," I thought.

So we headed for El Monte’s Universal Air Academy, where a nice instructor named Oscar was more than happy to take my dad and me up. Flight instruction costs $80 to $150 an hour, depending on the type of package you choose. The plane was a Piper Cherokee Archer, a 24-foot plane that can carry three or four people. I was so excited, I could barely keep up with myself. Oscar showed me how to do a flight check, which means making sure that the plane we were about to fly was in good working order. I sat on the left-hand side of the plane, which is the pilot’s seat. He sat in the co-pilot seat, which is on the right-hand side. My dad sat in the back and was given ear plugs since the engine would probably leave him deaf for a week if he didn’t wear them. Then off we went!

In the air, it’s so funny to look at the houses, trees, cars and swimming pools. They look like fake little models. And I never realized how perfectly aligned our cities are. It was so beautiful. From that day forward, I was hooked on flying.

Still, flying can be dangerous and downright scary at times! During one lesson, we took off and were ascending into the sky when I felt a cold breeze on my neck. That was strange, because the cockpit is hot at least 90 percent of the time. I looked over and noticed that my door was slightly open! I freaked out! My instructor told me not to panic and to keep the plane under control. Then he reached over and slammed my door really fast. It was scary, but soon things were under control again.

Another time in the air that put my nerves to the test was when the winds picked up and it got cloudy. We decided to wrap up my lesson up for the day, so I lined up my plane for the landing. My instructor said I wasn’t lining the plane with the runway and that the landing wouldn’t go well. So I tried it again. I pulled up and went around the runway again. The wind kept blowing me off course and I couldn’t get it straight. My instructor didn’t believe it was the wind and said he’d do the landing. That made me mad! He tried it and couldn’t get the plane straight either. We were both angry and scared that we wouldn’t be able to beat the coming storm and land safely. Eventually we did land, and I was so happy to be back on the ground.

I took lessons for a few months and loved every second of it. Then my mother suggested I take time off so I could study more. She never liked the idea of my flying so young. I was really bummed. Flying made me feel special, and it was awesome to think that I could do something none of my friends did. I wasn’t popular in school, and flying made me feel a bit superior to my peers, a sort of in-your-face sort of thing.

I tried focusing on my studies but it was hard to focus since I kept thinking that I couldn’t tell anyone anymore that I flew. Now I started conversations by saying, "I used to fly …"

Meanwhile, I focused on school. My mom kept telling me it was the right thing to do. She later said that my flight instructor had privately told her that I was getting to be very good at flying and that I would get bored waiting four years for my solo license. You can’t get that license until you’re 16. Then you get your pilot’s license at 18.

Now at 14, I feel more serious about flying and know the next two years will be perfect for me to practice flying for my solo license. I can’t wait to start again.

I look at flying as a sport because it takes a lot of work and dedication to stay with it. Not to mention a lot of bravery! Anyone can get into flying, you just have to have the heart for it. Flying can also be a self-image booster for people like me.

I encourage all to go out there and just do it. Don’t think about it. If you’re afraid, the best thing you can do is just get on that plane and take off. The whole experience is worth it and in the end you’ll be glad you did it.