On Wings of Eagles, Or Maybe Chickens


I’ll bet this is a first for you. ~H.M. Murdock to gate agent at airport, “The A-Team”

Best. Day. EVER! ~Rapunzel, “Tangled”

For anyone who was waiting on pins and needles for the P&Q 1st Anniversary finale, well, you’re just going to have to wait a bit longer due to the fact that a) I haven’t figured out what the hell to do with that one yet, b) I’ve been on a long-awaited vacation, and c) yesterday was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time, and I felt the need to blog about that instead.  So there you have it.

No, I didn’t actually jump out of a plane yesterday (that one’s on my list, and I’ll have to pluck up a lot of courage first.) What I did do was take a 2-hour flight in the co-pilot’s seat of a small airplane owned and operated by my uncle. Something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, like going to Antarctica or riding on an elephant to some forgotten temple ruin in Thailand. I thought it would be exciting, but I was wrong. It was a lot more than just “exciting.” Kind of like the feeling I’d normally get before a first date or prior to riding a big roller coaster, only magnified 50 times.

Let me explain a bit. Those who already know me know that I’m deeply enamored with H.M. Murdock, the A-Team’s resident pilot. But my fascination with all things aeronautical goes waaaay back to when I still had a Snoopy Flying Ace scarf I wore everywhere. It’s either in my blood or something struck me at a tender age. I wanted to fly so badly but wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance. Even for a 40-minute spin at my local airport, I’d have to part with $100. Flying, unlike skateboarding or popsicle-stick engineering, is not a cheap hobby. So what was a flight-obsessed, eccentric thirtysomething to do?

The home airfield

Enter a kindly intervention in the form of my uncle and his 4-seater Cessna Skyhawk. He was, as my mom explained, happy to take anyone up 4,000 feet over San Diego County who wanted the experience. I didn’t need to be asked twice, and gladly jumped at the chance despite my bad knee. So, yesterday, I headed out to Gillespie Field in the suburb of El Cajon to try my hand at being a co-pilot. I was shaking in the way I used to as a kid when I got an unexpected “B” on my report card. To put it more simply, I was both awed and scared shitless at the same time. The smallest plane I’d boarded anytime before was an American Airlines commuter plane. This one was so much smaller, and, despite its elegant lines and sleek ailerons, seemed tiny by comparison. I knew a fair amount about the science of how planes flew, but, I asked myself, was it really possible for this plane to take me almost a mile above sea level at 120 knots?
 
The answer, it turns out, was a resounding “Yes.”
 
Taking off was a lot like being on a typical commercial 737; the main differences are the smaller thrust and the fact that, as a co-pilot, I was wearing a headset and listening to the tower communications. (All that Alpha Mike Foxtrot stuff? Yes, that’s how pilots really talk.) And then, before I knew it, I was “slipping the surly bonds of earth” and soaring over San Diego County.
 
Albert Einstein was right about the theory of relativity, or the fact that time passes much quicker when one is actually having a great time. I was so busy enjoying the spectacular views that the next two hours felt like mere minutes. There was the city skyline, the stadium, my aunt and uncle’s home which they pointed out to me from the air, the 4,000 foot peaks to the east. Breathtaking wouldn’t begin to cover the views. There’s a very good reason mankind has been attempting to fly for thousands of years. The birds, it turns out, are the lucky ones.
 
On the loop home, I even received an unexpected bonus: the chance to hold the controls for a few minutes. If I’d been worried/excited before, now I was exhilarated and terrified at once. An airplane, as my uncle explained, is a lot easier to control than a car once it’s airborne. I tried to keep the nose steady, the altimeter calm, the RPM at just the right numbers. And, despite my fears that I’d pass out at the first chance, I did just fine. I even managed to swing the Cessna around in a gentle 360-degree loop and then back towards the airfield. Murdock, if he were real, might have been proud of me.
 
And then, all too soon, it was over. Back to gravity and hard tarmac and putting the sleek white plane back in its hangar until next time. I know there certainly will be a next time, whether next month or next yearr. I’m hooked. I may never become a licensed pilot, but I know now exactly why I’ve been captivated by flight all these years. Even if I died in a plane crash, in my humble opinion it would beat withering away in a nursing home somewhere, unloved and forgotten. Because, as some anonymous pilot once quipped,Death is just nature’s way of telling you to watch your airspeed.

Happy flying…and yes, I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity.

Home tower

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to click “Like” and subscribe to P&Q! Hated it? Well…you can always send me a line at wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com anyway.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on August 6, 2011.

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