Saturday, May 15, 2004

My first post and a little background

For years as a young boy in my pre-teens, my cousin and I would look out across the pastures and cornfields of his parent's farm and dream of being able to fly over them. We dreamed up crazy schemes from home-made bedsheet parachutes to building a hang glider from scratch with our vast combined aeronautical knowledge. We would jump off the short roof of an outbuilding and hit the ground pretending we were paratroopers. We would buy dimestore balsa airplanes and fly them in way too much wind until they broke. We would throw chickens out of the hay loft door just to see them fly to the ground. We dreamed of getting a radio controlled airplane, but his Dad (my uncle) was a farmer and my Mother was divorced and struggling to raise two children, but we were always obsessed with flying.

It's no wonder that in his early twenties, my cousin took flying lessons and got his private pilot license. I was there watching him the day he soloed! I was so envious. But alas, it was not within my financial reach to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars learning to be a pilot. Shortly after that, I joined the Army and within a year or two, tired of commercial flying. Well, not really flying, but riding the bus of the skies.

When I was financially stable after my four year active duty stint, I was able to realize my dream of flight, but only through the hobby of radio-controlled model airplanes. I happily built model kits and flew them, destroying most of them along the way and spending quite a bit of money buying new kits, supplies, new radios and engines and all the related gear. I was a minimalist though and never had all the fancy gadgets that others had. It seemed that I still had to work on a very tight budget.

I can still remember that fateful day when it all began. One of my friends and I were flying our model airplanes at a private airstrip just having the times of our lives when another friend drove up in his pickup. He sat down with us and told us that our airplanes were real neat and looked like lots of fun, but he and another guy just started taking ultralight flying lessons and told us that we should come and take an introductory flight. It didn't take much more than that to convince both of us to come an see what it was all about. We scheduled a meeting with the instructor for the following weekend, and got up early to make the 100 mile trip to the airport where the instruction was taking place.

We each signed up for an introductory flight of 30 minutes and signed all the necessary liability releases and legal mumbo-jumbo. He went first while I anxiously awaited my turn. I watched him strap himself into the two seat Quicksilver ultralight trainer, and enviously watched as he taxied out to the runway and took off. Within a short while they disappeared on the horizon, and I sat down and waited for what seemed like hours! They returned and when my friend got out he was grinning from ear to ear! Then came my turn.

As the instructor and I lined up on the runway and the engine roared to life, we started to quickly move down the runway. In a really short distance, we were off the ground. It was all surreal to me. The instructor was explaining what he was doing on the intercom, but I wasn't paying attention. I was overwhelmed with all the sights, smells, sound and feel of what had just happened to me. It seemed magical, like a string attached to this airplane just lifted it off the ground! During the flight, I felt the control pressures required to fly the plane, and actually did some manuvers as I was instructed. I actually was flying the plane! The 30 minutes were over way too soon, and when we landed, I had the same perma-grin as my friend had earlier possesed. From that moment on I was hooked! I quickly lost interest in radio controlled model airplanes. I couldn't quite see the point in flying the airplane from the ground when I could be flying the airplane while IN the airplane!

After recieving 11 hours of instruction, I thought I was ready to solo, but the instructor was very critical of my flying and we even exchanged harsh words in the air on our last flight. It was my first cross-country flight and I challenged him on something that didn't suit him about the way I was flying. He ended up saying "If you want to argue about it, we can just turn around and land this thing. Do you want to do that?" I should have said yes, but I didn't. We completed the cross-country with another instructor and student following us, landed at another airport, then returned. My formal instruction period ended that day. I didn't go back. Through a weird turn of events that included a divorce, I wound up living only a few miles from that airport where I recieved my instruction. Just recently, I met an instructor who was trained by the same person who trained me. His opinion of this guy was that he was your best friend as long as you had a dollar to spend. It's obvious to me that I was ready to solo and this guy didn't want me to end my training, since he was profiting from it. Oh well, there's bad apples in every aspect of life, eh?


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