One of my favorite feelings in the world is sitting back on a plane, buckling my seat belt and feeling the wheels lift off the ground as the plane soars higher and higher into the sky. I get such an adrenaline rush just by knowing how fast it goes, how there is nothing but air holding me up 30 thousand feet from the ground.
You can imagine that when Lafhert offered to write a blog post for me from the perspective of a pilot that I jumped at the opportunity. I know how much I love that feeling, and I couldn’t wait to read the perspective of the person behind the controls.
In the blog world, Lafhert introduces himself and writes under his pseudonym (and above is clearly not a photo of his face). You can read about his life over on his blog right here and I promise you won’t be disappointed! He is a fantastic writer which I saw the minute I opened this guest post. Enjoy!
There was an offer out to guest post while Melissa was absent abroad (bring me back some baklava), and I volunteered, picking this opportunity to try my hand at storytelling about my own traveling experiences. The difference here is… I’m the one flying the plane. I’m training to be a pilot, and like many other careers (teaching, medicine, sports, etc) I’ll always be “in training”, despite having acquired my private pilot’s license many moons ago.
I wanted to tell a story – one that had a little action, a little adventure, something that could get the adrenaline going just by my telling it. But having re-read the cursory drafts, I wasn’t happy with the result, so I’ll just instead monologue on the perspective I get from flying. If you want to read the story I was attempting to tell, I’ll post it on my blog the same day.
I could launch into a little history as to the kinds of people that have been pilots for their career – from the Wright brothers to Lindbergh to Earhart to Yeager to “Sully” Sullenberger – but I’m sure many of you already know them and their stories, so I’ll skip straight to mine.
Lots of pilots start out young in aviation – a lot of times you have to be to get ahead in the game – but I didn’t start flying until my first day of college. The learning curve is steep, the experience is somewhat pricy, and the media never helps things when it highlights plane crashes and explosions and the like.
I’ve accumulated a few stories over the course of my 5+ years of flying experience – I’ve run out of gas, I’ve had a complete electrical failure, I’ve flown with uber incompetent co-pilots, and though I’ve yet to have an actual fire in flight or get caught in a thunderstorm, it’s early yet – one of my favorite stories is a flight I did early in my training at a flight school just outside of St. Louis. The requirements for this private pilot certificate stated that I had to practice flying at night to a “Class C” airport.
The flight itself wasn’t all that memorable. We left about 5 or 6, arrived at Champaign-Urbana airport a little before dusk, and parked to go find some dinner. The flight back is what I remember the most of. It was a clear night; you could see all the stars out in their spectacular glory, and the surface below almost completely unlit; the sole exception being the small towns as we passed them by.
It’s the lack of sensations you get when you’re flying at night that makes you feel like you’re far above the Earth, floating effortlessly. John Magee had it right, but it’s most pronounced at night. Take off just after dusk, say goodbye to the tower controller, and head home. It’s a clear night, so climb as high as you can reasonably get away with – I think I got up to about 6 or 8 thousand feet – and wait for the sun to set. Look down at all the cars going by on the highway, their headlight beams extending mere inches crawling slowly along the pavement like earthworms. Out over the dashboard, you see twinkling lights – a mix of green, red and white – the jetliners finding their own places to settle for the night, carting home their burdening loads of weary passengers. Turn the dashboard lights down low, the need to see airspeed and altitude become far less interesting at this juncture than the moonlit bird’s-eye view in front of you. The drone of the single engine and the propeller up front chomping at the air ahead is drowned out by the insulation of the headset and the whoosh of the air as it streams like a vortex over the fuselage. It is dark out – and you can’t see anything but what appears, bathed in whitish-yellow light, perched as if freshly pulled from the magician’s hat.
The words don’t do the sight justice, but it is as if there is a solitary, immobile perch high above all else, and you have the best seat in the house, the only seat.
But what soon illuminates all of this is home. The lights ofSt. Louisappear in the distance, but not as sharp, blinding notes to the horizontal ‘tune’, but as a dulled phosphorescent glow.
We were more than 60 miles out, and the horizon is now this domed phosphorescent glow. It was a lesson in the extension of human settlement. The flatlands of theMidwestmay be famous for mile upon weary mile of cornfields and little else, but from a vantage point six thousand feet up, it’s all within reach.