I’ve written of this before but tonight I decided to revisit the romance I’ve experienced and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. My first time was when I was 14. I barely remember what was going on but all I knew was life would never be the same again. It only lasted a half hour but that was all I needed. I had been working my ass off for the next few months just so I could do it again. I did it four times before my parents found out and I was ‘discouraged’ to say the least. It wouldn’t be until many many years that I would be able to do it again. And let me tell you, there’s not much in this world better than this…
“Big Bend 2, Runway One Eight, Clear for Take-Off”
I had been in plenty of military aircraft (and jumped out of them) enough times that nervousness had no factor in it. It was pure love. Aside from the cocky instructor on my right, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that has given me as much joy. Then the first big drop came from the crazy thermal action alongside the lake right after take-off. My heart said, “Yes Dave, this is it!”
For the next few weeks it was hardcore studying, chair-flying and immersion into everything aviation. My first solo was in quick order. Unfortunately it took about a zillion landings before the instructor finally jumped out of the plane and let me at it. I never had a problem getting the plane on the ground safely, it was really a process of perfecting it more so to cover the ass of the instructor that signs off. Along comes the first solo. I took to the sky with a love in my heart that no engine stutter or wind gust could shake.
Many hundreds of landings later, check-ride after check-ride and amazing flights along the way I was at the end. I had just passed my instrument check ride and was a few weeks from taking the commercial ride. There was only one check ride I failed… damn plane that I hadn’t flown before gave me a secondary stall about ten minutes in. Gillespie looked over at me and said “Are you serious?” I was dead on the altitudes, radio calls, everything…. That was the one and only time to date that I had experienced a secondary stall. Unfortunately, FAA says some things can’t be overlooked.
After a crazy-stressful instrument ride where I was a thousand feet above my final fix and a half mile out yet still managed to nail the ILS, lady luck was on my side. The chief pilot, who gave me that check ride looked at me after we landed and said “There were two times during that flight that I almost failed you, then you did something amazing and redeemed yourself.” He didn’t actually say if I passed until we got inside and everyone was waiting for the answer. He reached over, grabbed the paper and with a smirk on his face signed off ‘Passed.’
So on to the commercial ride. The last flight at the school. After this, I had one more annoying math test and I was set free. I don’t think I could have been more happy with my last flight. My spot landings were about as perfect as anything. I was even challenged (ungraded at this point) to land dead-stick with no instruments. Not even an airspeed indicator. The check pilot adjusted himself to turn towards me as he blocked off the instrument panel and killed the power. He says “I don’t think you realize how good you are. Now land this plane on those numbers.”
I turned towards the numbers, listening to the whistle of the wind to keep my speed. I came in a little high so I slipped in. 65 knots in a full deflection slip to lose altitude. He was about to rip the ‘oh shit’ handles off if there was any but I had never felt in more control. There was a fence about 40 feet before the threshold that he didn’t think I was going to clear. I aimed at the fence, got my speed up and at the last minute used the last notch of flaps to lift up and over. I straightened out from the slip, full back on the yoke and got the most amazing ‘wert’ from the wheels. Dead on the numbers. Nose wheel dead centerline.
“Take Us Home.”
The final landing at Grant County was actually a bit sloppier. He was used to a different style of soft field landing so he gave me the ‘What The Eff?” look when I came in with more power than his students ever used.
We got back to the ramp, hands sweating, heart racing. He was the kind of guy that always had a list of ‘things’ that I could have done better but he didn’t bring too much attention to it. When he turned to me in the plane he paused. I thought “Oh Shit.” He held out his hand and said “Congratulations, you’re a commercial pilot.” I almost felt like I was going to cry. Not really because I was relieved of the stress of it all, but because I knew this was it. When would I see my love again?
I have neglected it for far too long. Only taking a few flights here and there. I keep my license right in the flap of my wallet and see it every time I open it up to check my phone or grab my debit card.
It’s time for me to find a way back to my love. My happy place. Let’s Fly Away.
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return”