I Wish I’d Said That

A recent purchase reminded me that, as much as things change through avionics upgrades and regulations, the spirit that lures us to flight has endured in its most basic and shared form for all the years man has yearned for the sky. My first e-Bay purchase came yesterday, a good-condition volume on flight instruction published in 1928. Written by Byron Q. Jones, then Major, U.S. Army Air Corps and heralded as “Chief of Army Aviation Training in the World War,” it’s a fabulous find from which I’m sure I’ll rekindle my early love of basic flight.

Nestled in the middle of its yellowing pages I found Jones’ expression of the love of flying that most pilots possess, but few are willing or able to put into words. Sadly, many of us forget these feelings when our own logbooks begin to fill. Chapter XII, a simple two pages entitled “The First Flight,” includes Jones’ sometimes-quaint description to would-be students experiencing their first time aloft

Notice during the flight the following:

  • The air blast.
  • The pressure of the wind against your head when you look over the side.
  • How the wind gets under your helmet if it is too loose.
  • How easy it is to lose your goggles if they do not fit and your head is exposed to the wind.
  • How the air gets under your goggles if they don’t fit.
  • How drafty it is in an open cockpit.
  • The roar of the motor.
  • The odor of the exhaust.
  • The dirt that flies up in your face from the bottom of the cockpit after you have started (in case the cockpit is not kept clean).
  • How the jolting decreases as the speed increases.
  • How smooth everything is when the wheels leave the ground.
  • How you may touch ground once or twice before you finally stay in the air.
  • The thrill you get when you know you are off the ground for the first time in your life.
  • How the view of the country opens up as the plane begins to climb.
  • How beautiful the panoramic view.
  • How far you can see.
  • How small the objects look on the ground.
  • How lost you feel if you forget where the landing field is.
  • How smoothly the plane flies; no jolts like the auto.
  • How like the elevator feeling when the plane goes up or down as it hits rough air.
  • How one wing will drop suddenly and come back up slowly.
  • What fun it is to look down on the roads and houses seeing the autos moving along.
  • How difficult it is to see any people below.
  • How small the world looks.
  • How lonely you feel with no one to talk to.
  • How there is no sensation of speed.
  • How difficult it is to see much on account of the wings and fuselage.
  • How quiet it seems when the pilot shuts off the motor and starts to glide.
  • How startled you are when the pilot banks up and turns.
  • How fast the ground seems to come up towards you.
  • How gently the landing was made. You could not tell when the wheels first touched the ground.
  • How relieved you are to be back on the ground, but what a thrill it was to fly.
  • How quiet everything seems after you have climbed out of the plane.

Wise, poetic words from the dawn of flying. Many quips hint at the risk avoided, the dangers mastered, of flight… They all proclaim the joy of aviation; I wish I’d written them!

Nearly 75 years later, trying to keep the joy of personal flight alive among my day-to-day, hard-IFR, business-pilot flying, Jones’ passage prompts me to add some personal experiences to his list. Do you remember?

  • How the airplane leapt into the air the first time you flew it without the instructor.
  • The magic of seeing the runway lights straight ahead, right where they’re supposed to be, when breaking out on your first “real,” to-minimums ILS approach.
  • The gnawing fear of signing off your first student pilot for solo flight.
  • The throaty rumble the wheels make the first time you land on a smooth, grass strip.
  • The dread you feel the first time you start to pick up ice, and the relief when it’s gone.
  • The giddy smirk you wear during your first loop.
  • Your ego’s surge when you see cars have stopped near the airport to watch you land.
  • The accomplishment of finishing that long flight from Kansas and smelling the ocean’s salt air on final approach.
  • The race between your mind and body the first time you feel afterburners light and you roar down the runway.
  • The acidic horror as you wait for the Designated Examiner to show up.
  • The happiness of hearing “Congratulations” at the end of that checkride.
  • How the full moon looks when flying just above a solid cloud deck at night.
  • The satisfaction of completing your first cross-country trip with your father as passenger, when he looks at you and says, “You know, you’re a pretty good pilot.”

BOTTOM LINE: I bet YOU have some great observations to add to this list. If you’re so inclined, e-mail me the best of your one-line descriptions of the emotions you’ve felt so far in your flying career. I’ll keep them confidential if you wish, and provide credit where it’s welcomed. We’ll collect and publish your observations, recharge each other’s spirits, and perhaps light a fire under others still just thinking about learning to fly. Airplanes are a great way to get around and a fabulous business tool, but when all’s told none of us would fly if we didn’t feel some of the shared emotions felt in the early days of flight.