Perhaps I haven’t mentioned it a great deal on my blog, but I guess I should come out and say it if anyone is wondering: I love airplanes. I suppose I always have. Growing up on the shore of Lake Michigan, our house was under a frequently used training flight path for C-130s and A-10s, and the sounds of Hercs or Hogs was enough to send me running outside to see what was passing overhead. Some of my favorite early memories are of spending time at EAA Oshkosh with my uncles and grandfather on a foggy summer morning. I distinctly recall seeing sometime in the very early 1980s an F-14 flying with wings swept in formation with a group of WWII warbirds (it may have even been a full Grumman ‘cats’ formation), then pulling out with an immense roar in the most memorable ‘missing man’ formation I will ever be witness to.
As a kid, I actually got kind of annoyed when going to the EAA airshow – I really wanted to see the jet fighters, but my uncles always dragged me first to see the WWII warbirds. To be honest, I didn’t see their fascination with those old, propeller driven machines, when there were fast, exciting F-15s, F-16s and other such cutting edge combat planes as seen in An Illustrated Survey of the West’s Modern Fighters to look at (I swear, I absolutely devoured that book). Many years later, I finally came to realize that it wasn’t a fascination at all – it was a deep respect and reverence for the planes and what they had accomplished so many years ago. Now, when I go to that very same airshow, it’s not the modern jets that I go to look at first – it’s those old warbirds that so enraptured my uncles and grandfather. The sound of a P-51 equipped with a Merlin V-12 is simply as magical as its engine name would imply. Seeing the majority of airworthy P-38s in existence lined up together is the very best reunion imaginable.
I still love the jets, of course. Oddly enough, many of the jets I knew and was fascinated by as a kid are now parked in that same warbird section – you might see an F-4, a MiG-21, or even a Sea Harrier in that area. Sadly, with heavy restrictions now in place on what can be sold off into the civilian market, it seems quite likely that in another 10 or 20 years, there will still be more WWII vintage planes flying than the fighters I grew up with. Apparently the government thinks shredding its heroes is for the best, and don’t even get me started on the USAF curtailing practically all airshow participation due to budget cuts (or so they claim – meanwhile, Canada was happy to send a few warplanes and even their phenomenal jet team to the Rockford air show).
Beyond my childlike desire for the sound of afterburning turbofans, I simply love airplanes in general. I’m one of those weird people that simply have to look skyward when they hear something passing overhead, no matter how pedestrian. I’m not even very good at being able to tell what type of plane it is. It’s flying in the air, and that’s all that matters to me. I’ve tried to scratch the itch – my bookshelves sag with books about airplanes, my hard drive is packed with flight simulators, and I have a pile of RC planes (and parts of RC planes, but I suppose that’s to be expected). And yet it simply has never been enough. I need to fly for myself. I find it absurd that the concept of ‘aviation’ can be encoded into one’s DNA, yet the similar fascination of my uncles and grandfather appear to serve as at least anecdotal evidence that perhaps such desire is more rooted in one’s being than might normally be considered. To be slightly more blunt, perhaps aviation is indeed in my blood.
I’ve been saving up for several years for flight training. Flying isn’t cheap – despite the dreams and aspirations of optimistic 1950s post-war America, it’s not something you can pursue on a whim (and expect to succeed), unlike getting a motorcycle license (2 Saturday afternoons of training, a DMV test, bam – you can ride a bike). I’ve heard that getting a private pilot certificate today actually requires more time/training than getting a commercial rating 50 years ago. Despite the cost, I knew that this was something I simply had to pursue. Stephen Force is an utter poet of piloting and has about the best summation that I can possibly imagine – “what do you owe to your 10-year-old self”.
No matter who who are or what are your own passions, I think this is a remarkably succinct distillation of what your true pursuits as an adult deserve to be. If you had a time machine and visited yourself at 10 years old, what would disappoint them most about you? Seriously consider that for a moment – looking at not a stranger, but yourself, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60… however many years younger than you now are. What would you have to admit to your own self that you hadn’t even attempted, much less accomplished? In my case, it would be “why didn’t you ever become a pilot?” I would have to tell my 10 year old self that I had always wanted to, but you know, never quite got around to it, or some other bullshit answer. And my 10 year old self would have looked at me with the most utter disdain imaginable. They… you… had dreams unrealized. The opportunity was right in your face, yet you never grasped it.
I finally realized that in some way, I had made a promise to myself long ago. I was going to either become a pilot or make the very best attempt at it that I could. Your 10 year old self still lives inside of you, after all, subdued though they may be. And I wasn’t going to let mine down.
Today I hope I did the 10 year old that lives inside of me proud. I can’t verbalize the experience in any meaningful way, so I hope a simple log entry will suffice.
6 SEP 2014 – First solo – J-3 N42522