Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Favorite Aviation Moments

The air up there

The perfect snap: The pilot in the front seat is a Sierra Hotel fighter pilot with more than a thousand carrier landings. He says he wants to see a snap roll, so you oblige, knowing he has seen and done everything. You nail both the entry and the exit. Dead nuts on! Bam! Bam! A split second of violence, and it’s over. A long moment of silence is punctuated by a voice in your headset: “Absolutely cosmic!” Well put.

First flight: The person in the right seat is along for his first flight. He has never been near a small airplane before. He doesn’t know what to expect; neither do you. People react in different ways to first flights. You can sense his tenseness; he’s a newborn in a new world. As the aircraft’s nose comes up, you’re preoccupied with pilot stuff, and the newbie is on his own. The airplane climbs smoothly through 500 feet, and a voice from the right, in a quiet, reverent tone, says, “Wonderful.” We’ve hooked another one!

Hammered silence: The up line going into the hammerhead was good, and the pivot at the top was as crisp as you’ve ever done. As the nose whips around and hits the down line, the windshield is filled with nothing but ground, and you snatch the throttle closed. The world goes into a state of suspended animation. Nothing is moving—nothing! Although the airplane is pointed straight down, gravity takes several long moments to get into gear. You’re granted a surreal few seconds to savor the feeling of hanging there, pointed straight down, challenging gravity to come and get you. And it does—eventually.

A place to be you: It’s a tiny airplane with an even tinier cockpit. As you step over the side and slide in, you do a familiar, intricate dance of insertion as the airplane comes up around you. The last motion is reminiscent of an East Indian dancer’s move, your elbows come toward each other to clear the sheet metal. You’re where you’re supposed to be: You’re home.

These are some of my favorite moments. Now come up with some of your own, even if only in your mind. When you’re stuck in traffic or on a long highway headed nowhere, you can relive these moments again and again. Just because you’re on the ground doesn’t mean at least part of you can’t be forever airborne.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII and CFIA, and aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Visit his website,


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