THE ENGINE BUZZED noisily as I taxied the Diamond Evolution single-prop airplane toward south-facing runway 17the correct way to be aimed this morning, since the wind was coming from that direction at ten miles per hour. I steered using a pair of brake pedals: Stepping on the left one pulled us left, while the right one sent us right. My instructorthe appropriately named Spencer Birdradioed other pilots in the area to make sure the runway was clear. As we rounded the taxiway at Double Eagle II Airport, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and pulled onto the apron at the start of 17, I released my death grip on the stick just long enough to wipe my sweaty palms on my pants. Bird, 27, told me to move the throttle all the way forward. I did, the engine buzzed louder, and the two-seater started down the tarmac.
My stomach somersaulted. I'd done reasonably well during my first lessonwhich mostly involved doing midflight turns after Bird had gotten us airbornebut takeoff was different. Within seconds, the Evolution was weaving like a car with a drunk at the wheel. I struggled with the pedals and nearly ran us off the runway. The engine buzzed louder. We were all over the place and approaching 50 miles per hour.
Bird kept his cool: "Pull back on the stick." I hesitated. "Pull back on the stick!" he yelled, sounding a little less cool. I willed my arms to follow his order, and the plane jumped into the air like an eager toad.