Isn’t it unfortunate how easy it is to take things for granted in our lives? It’s almost as if something is programmed inside our brains to make us feel that the more frequently we get to see, experience or do certain things then the less we’re able have the same excitement and “wow factor” as we had the first time around.
The same is true with aviation.
I can still vividly remember my first ride in a small plane. It was a Piper Arrow owned by my friend’s dad. I was mesmerized by all the switches on the aircraft’s panel, the rush that came during takeoff and the incredible view of patchwork fields that lay beneath us as we surveyed our local area from a few thousand feet above the ground. It was as though a whole new world had been opened up to me on that day, and it changed my life forever.
Yet today, flying is so routine for me that when I’m deadheading, or riding as a passenger on a flight, I often catch myself reading a book or even falling asleep on takeoff. While I know it’s just as exciting as the first time, for some reason I can’t help but take it all for granted.
Thankfully, there are times when that initial excitement returns to me instantaneously. Sometimes it happens when I’m witnessing an amazing sunrise or sunset from the air such as this…
More often, it’s when I’m able to share aviation with others, such as when a young child visits the flight deck and I see their smiles and wonderment at all the switches, lights and the mystery that is a modern flight deck. Or, it happens when I take people with me on a flight in a small, general aviation airplane.
General Aviation (GA) flying is totally and completely different than airline flying. For starters, it’s incredibly intimate. Cabins are relatively tight quarters and may only seat between 2 and 6 passengers or so. Second, you fly at much lower altitudes than on jet airliners, providing a much more detailed view of your surroundings. And third, you get to see and experience almost everything the pilot does. This includes watching him or her manipulate the controls (including the autopilot) and listening to the Air Traffic Control chatter.
My wife, Jen, first experienced a flight in a small plane a few years ago when we flew to Penn State for a football game. Ever since then, she wanted to find time to take both her mother and sister up in the air. So as a birthday present to them, we arranged to pick them up in central New York and fly to Maine for the day. There would be no seven hour drive this time…just a one hour forty-five minute flight!
The weather could not have been more perfect. We enjoyed a magnificent blue sky with nearly unlimited visibility and only the smallest ripples of turbulence. We took off, circled around her mom’s house a few times, and then headed over the Adirondacks, across Vermont and New Hampshire, and along the Atlantic coast before landing. Both Jen’s mom and sister commented that their necks hurt because they spent the entire flight looking out the windows, captivated by the completely different world below them.
We grabbed our rental car and spent some time walking along the quaint streets of downtown Portland and window-shopping its unique shops. We drove along the coast and toured a few lighthouses. To top it off, we ate lobster on the shore at The Lobster Shack that was so fresh you could still taste the salt water.
Then it was back to the airport for the trip back to Rome.
With less to look at during a night flight, Jen’s mom and I had the opportunity to talk. I reverted back to my flight instructor days and explained how many of the instruments and gauges worked. We talked about our flight plan, procedures, “plan Bs” and lots of the thought processes that come from being a pilot.
But the biggest thing we talked about was how aviation changes your frame of reference on life. The world shrinks while opportunities expand. Aviation allows us to plot a course to somewhere new, take off into the sky, focus on the future, and dance among the clouds. We can leave our stresses and worries on the ground and instead admire a world that is beautiful and peaceful and calm…at least from above. And we can come to realize that while giving a gift of lobster, the real gift is aviation and the chance to see life from a different point of view. If that’s not refreshing and revitalizing, well, I just don’t know what is.
Have you enjoyed the gift of aviation? What are some of your best stories?