The Appeal of Flight

I can remember exactly what I was doing when I decided I couldn’t be flying anymore.

Among the airplanes I rented was a Beechcraft Skipper.

They only made about 300 of these little Skippers for training purposes but even that plane was about $130 an hour to rent.

And that’s back in the 80s.

It weighed all of about 1300 pounds with an engine a little over 100 hp.

And when you’re renting you go by the Hobbs meter .

That’s a meter that starts recording the time from the moment you start the engine. An hour is an hour whether you’re sitting there idling or cruising 5000 feet in the air.

And I had waited 45 minutes during a busy Saturday morning before I was allowed to takeoff.

I realized at that moment I had just spent about $100 and hadn’t even left the ground.

Circa 1985

But flying was more than a simple activity for me.

In a world which filled your head with all kinds of junk, from the taxes you have to pay to what are you going to have for dinner, at the end of a flight my head was clear of all those worries and concerns.

I’ve always had a bit of difficulty in focusing. Too many things can distract me.

Maybe I have what is now called ADD. Perhaps I would’ve been prescribed a regimen of medicine as a boy now to make me dull and more able to focus.

But after a flight I felt wonderfully refreshed.

You’re constantly busy navigating. In the case of visual flight you’re constantly looking for landmarks to know you’re on the right flight path. You are scanning the horizon for traffic. You are scanning the instruments to make sure everything is running in the green.

By the time you’ve landed at your destination your head was clear of everything but the flight.

I’ve thought on and off again of taking it up again but so much has changed since the 80s. Mainly the airspace regulations. 9/11 forced those changes. You’ve got to know where you can go and where are you can’t and if you’re going into a restricted area who to contact for permission. Then there is the flight physical. Would I still pass?

I have a friend with an impressive aviation résumé going back to Vietnam.

He retired as a 777 captain. He’s been rebuilding this plane that’s called the MiGlet. There’s only a handful flying in the US but it is a certificated Russian airplane that was actually built in the factory that makes the MiGs.

If there was a Piper Cub turned into a Tonka Toy you get an idea of what it looks like.

But anyway he says he’s going to get me back flying.

Having re-published so much of Lex’s posts, I feel as though I have come to know him.

One thing that he did like about flight was the mechanics of it and the constant quest to improve.

He wrote about this in The Sense of Mastery. When he worked at Barnstormers one of our lexicans was able to fly with him.

He got him formation flying in minutes and said it was an unforgettable experience. I get the feeling that if I were able to fly with Lex I would’ve come away from the flight with a whole different view of flying. And learned more in an hour than my whole flying knowledge to that point.

So anyway, what brought this post was a passage I read in Stephen Coonts’ book, The Cannibal Queen.

This is a wonderful account of his taking his restored Stearman biplane and spending a summer flying all over the continental US.

In a few sentences Coonts summarized why flying has had such a hold on so many pilots. He wrote it in the early 90s and just heard that morning about the Soviet coup.

“ The problems and concerns of the ground fade. Up here my world becomes the airplane, the instruments, the wind and sky. This is the charm that flying has always held for me. And once again it works – Soviet coups, bank balances, taxes, women, it all fades to insignificance as the Queen and I fly on through the summer sky. The flying becomes the reality. I land only to fly on”.

That pretty well summarized it for me.

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