When I was twelve my family was hit by a tragedy that left me at ground zero of an emotional nuclear blast. As I struggled to stay afloat amidst that loss and as a means to escape the turmoil, I somehow latched onto the idea that I would go to Alaska and fly airplanes. Although I knew very little at that time about Alaska, and even less about flying airplanes, the idea seemed to distract me from the reality that swirled and hammered at me and my family. I told my father what I wanted to do and he raised some major hell and the idea went down in flames so to speak.
So I put aside the boyish dream of “Alaska with airplanes” nonsense and moved on to finish school, marry happily, raise a family and otherwise commit life. My interest in airplanes and flying, however, stayed with me. Fueled and reinforced by a span of years that I flew as an aircrewman on the Lockheed Neptune patrol bomber while serving in the US Navy.
Fast forward fifty years or so to a bright, crisp autumn morning at a small local airport where I had begun, you guessed it, taking flying lessons. I had just left the flight line after an early morning cross country solo and was on the road heading out of the airport. This ancient, narrow two laner made a turn around the end of the runway just before reaching the exit gate and civilization. It was still early with no other road traffic in sight so I stopped and looked out the drivers window straight down the white centerline of the black asphalt runway.
As I sat watching, a black and white Cessna finished it’s preflight runup, pulled onto the runway, then positioned itself on the centerline facing away from me in preparation for takeoff. The back of the aircraft was only about fifty feet from where I sat watching and when the pilot suddenly increased to full power to begin his takeoff roll I could feel my truck rock and see the weeds and grasses flatten in the propblast. When the pilot relaesed the brakes the craft began to move, slowly at first, then quickly gained speed exponentially until it was blasting down the runway with the noise of the engine and propeller combining to make that charactoristically loud high pitched buzz.
A few seconds later I could see, even from my position now a few hundred feet behind, the front of the aircraft gently rise as the nose wheel left the ground and then the aircraft lifted off. When he was about ten feet off the deck a bubble of crosswind caught the left wing tip and forced it sharply up until the driver caught it and eased it back down.
For the next few seconds I watched as the aircraft fishtailed, pitched and squirreled around in the erratic wind currents and I knew exactly what was going on inside the cockpit as the pilot played the wind. And then he was up.
I watched it get smaller and smaller before disappearing in the distance and I thought to myself…I can do that. Even though a lifetime has passed since the dream was concieved, I’ve learned how to do that.
A few months later I had the opportunity to fly in Alaska. As I was taking off the first time and I eased the nose wheel off the ground then lifted off I could not stop myself from laughing out loud. My right seat passenger looked at me then smiled himself and said “yeah we get that a lot up here”.
If a moral is necessary (and vignettes such as these beg for morals I suppose) the the moral here must be that there is hope, there is always hope.