Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Long View

We’re as old or young, as declining or thriving, as we wish to be

I've had the great fortune to go Mach 1.6 in my Air Academy days, struggled against a 2G crunch to photograph Patty Wagstaff in her Extra 300 while she was upside down, inverted, holding fast to a 60-degree bank. I've taken my wife aloft in a 1946 Piper Cub J3 to circle lazily over our home in upstate New York.

I've been thrilled/terrified to thermal my insubstantial hang glider to 17,999 feet above the Rockies. I've joined sea- gulls and hawks for hours along the green- and-gold dune sheet ridges and rocky cliffs of the California coast and Utah's Point of the Mountain.

Skimming the croplands of the Midwest in a Quicksilver ultralight at 20 feet, I've zoomed up over powerlines only to dive back down to the deck, imagining that I was one of Doolittle's Raiders over Tokyo.

We love flying the way we love our children. It makes an indelible mark on our souls that changes us forever. We'll never abandon the sheer thrill of it, whether we lift off at 35 mph or 200 knots, and even though the very idea of piloting a craft that weighs 70 or 154 or 1,320 or 400,000 pounds scares the very bejeebers out of most nonfliers we know.

We're, as a species, always coming from someplace to go somewhere new and unpredictable. We fuss over how to change or control our futures. We read the tea leaves (less attendance, fewer airplane sales, fewer student starts), and see dark thunderheads and twisters bearing down on us.

But the essential human experience is to remember always, deep in our souls, that it's the dream, that firmly grasped vision of our brightest possible future, that pulls us forward, not the past that can only hold us back, if we let it.

We will always fly. If the world tanks tomorrow, there will be someone who climbs a hill and foot-launches into a thermal the day after, seeking altitude and the glories of clouds.

Ask a financial or political pundit which way the stockmarket or the election is going tomorrow. Fail. It's ditto with aviation. No way to know, for all our furrowed brows.

Flying is the million-year dream that came true, oh, such a short time ago. We're still living the foreword to the book, folks. Let's remember that. There's no end, until we cease all our dreaming.

We'll always find a way, you and I, to take ourselves to the sky. And, once we've climbed that last personal thermal, others will find new ways to silver their wings with stardust.

Flying is our destiny. It has always been so.


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