Flight across Mid-America : An Aviation Adventure by Gene Seibel

It will be the culmination of everything flying should be. A flight that will be a short hop for my small, simple flying machine, but for me, an hour abounding with images and feelings. The apprehension I feel before each flight is quickly fading away as my craft’s engine once again winds up smoothly to full power.

Without thought of the endless man hours of science, study and design that went into creating my partner, we creep cautiously onto the runway. Swinging to the left, we charge southward into the teeth of an angry south wind, the wind for which this state of Kansas was named. Our sudden surge becomes airspeed, which creates lift, which in turn yields altitude, which results in flight. Soon flight becomes a graceful, sweeping left turn for a final glimpse at my father slowly leaving the now abandoned airfield.

As we slice our way upward through the wind, the vast plains of mid America spread before us. At first it feels mother earth is clawing to keep us bound, but soon we break free from the turbulence into the peacefulness a mile above the planet. We merge into the flow of a spinning weather system, giving us a joyful boost to never before attained speeds.

We float effortlessly for minutes that seem like hours, watching the endless plains drift below. I look to our left and see miles of prairie dissolve into a haze of humidity and sunlight, punctuated only by an occasional glint of sunbeam reflecting from the ponds and lakes dotting the landscape. Looking to our right, the brown, quilted farm land fades into the shadow of a blue-gray dusk.

I can imagine wagon trains and Pony Express riders crossing this great expanse. In a single glance I can see more prairie than they could cross in a day; yet, my destination is the same St. Joseph, Missouri, where their journeys began. Only a short stroll from the raging Missouri River they crossed so long ago, is our intended landing place. But for now we are in another world, suspended motionless in a satin sky of pale blue.

We roll ever so slightly to the right to correct our path, allowing the near setting sun to sneak under our left wing, filling the cabin with a blast of warmth and light. For several minutes our left wing-tip skips across the sky in a game of tag with the sinking sun.

Meanwhile, I gaze down and notice a beehive of activity. Land dwellers are scurrying about in miniature cars, trucks and trains, all totally unaware that they are being watched from above. Our journey does not affect their bustling lives and they will never know we have slipped by, unless by chance they detect our distant buzz and look upward.

Here, a mile beyond the frantic activity on the surface of planet earth, all is well. My modern global positioning system seems out of place, but still I consult it and find that our destination is approaching at an unbelievably fast pace. I am torn between this good news and the craving to remain longer in this magnificent world.

The large red disk in the western sky dips lower and is now continuously peeking into my world. I see her lower extremity slipping away into a blue mist of cloud. Again I consult the global positioning system to find that sunset has now occurred. I realize that for the land dwellers below me, their only natural source of heat and light has already disappeared from view.

I scan the horizon ahead and find growing regions of cloud and vapor becoming dark and devoid of illumination, as if darkness were devouring daylight in bites. Yet, those heroic land dwellers are putting up a valiant defense. Here and there, alone and in groups, small points of light begin to sparkle across the landscape, fighting back the darkness. In the distance, I begin to observe great ribbons of deep orange flame meandering across the landscape as roaring prairie fires consume acres of parched grassland.

Beneath us, as the villages and towns pass by, I see street lights lining a crosshatch of side streets, and without fail, one main avenue through its core. These main arteries are inhabited by numerous slow moving objects. It occurs to me that this is a Saturday night and I am watching from afar the great American custom of cruising.

More clusters of humanity drift by but eventually I lose interest as larger patches of radiance grow in the distance. We are approaching the state capital with its shimmering lights. Beacons of the city’s two airports pulsate from among the busy clutter, but high above the activity, we relish these final minutes of being alone in the now ebony sky.

As we proceed, the all-night yard lights of the farmsteads become more abundant. We are leaving the wide open prairies and coming upon the family farms of northeastern Kansas. There is no discernible activity. Clearly the farmers have finished their evening chores and retired for a good night’s rest, while the youngsters have gone into the nearest town to mingle with their peers.

I am disturbed by the realization that soon we must leave this calm, peaceful world and again join those on the ground. I turn on the radio and begin hearing the voices of those that would control us when we return. I request permission to join them, and it is graciously given, but I soon discover all will not be pleasant. The great spinning weather cosmos is sweeping swiftly across the runway and our transition from sky to earth will be all the more dreadful.

Visions of the delightful world above are quickly evaporating from my mind as my trusty flying machine and I descend to face the challenge of another crosswind landing. I know she cannot survive without me, nor I without her. I dip our right wing into the darkening void below and thrust the rudder to the left, constantly balancing the two to align us with the beckoning runway. We descend through layers of wind, gusts and turbulence, all the while playing out our balancing act.

Doubts dance in my head as I consider abandoning the approach, but suddenly there is a stability that tells me all will be well. We continue drifting slowly earthward, ever vigilant for sudden changes. My machine’s right tire taps the pavement with a chirp and we settle gently onto the runway. We have successfully but reluctantly returned to the world of the land dwellers.

Once again the voices are there in my headphones and they permit us to taxi to the parking ramp. There I will again become integrated into society and the trusty flying machine will wait silently for another lofty adventure. Most people I pass on the streets of St. Joseph will never suspect that my friend and I have just been to another world.

Gene Seibel