Going Direct: The Shortest Reflection on the 9-11 Attacks You’ll Read This Year

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The weeks following the attacks of 9-11, which killed thousands of innocents on the ground and in the four airliners that were hijacked to use in the attacks, were bleak. I was about 25 miles away from Manhattan when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers, and before long people in our town could see the smoke rising on what should have been simply a spectacular blue-skies day in New York.

And the aftermath of the attacks was brutal. A number of kids in our oldest child's school had parents who worked at the World Trade Center. Not knowing what additional attacks might occur, we rushed to the school to get our kid, to hold them close and be ready to do something, who knew what, if more attacks were to follow. In the aviation world, it was equally bleak. In my logbook I crossed out the entries for each flight I’d have likely taken had it not been for our airspace system being shut down after the attacks. And like every other pilot who first went flying again after the airspace was reopened, it was one of the most bittersweet but liberating moments of my flying life. You could hit us, but you couldn’t stop us. We would rise again, just as new towers have risen in the hallowed ground of those that fell.

Today, 17 years after the attacks, I remember. I will always remember that day. But a deeply ingrained part of those memories will be that day some time after the attacks, when the airspace was open again and me by my self in a Skylane, lifting off from Sikorsky Memorial in Bridgeport, Connecticut, seeing the Long Island Sound below me and as I climbed seeing the skyline of New York and knowing that despite the horror, we would endure.

And we have. While we have struggled with finding a balance between security and individual freedom, that struggle is a part of the American experience and always has been. And the personal liberty that we most love, flying, is one that has come back stronger in our hearts than ever and has a great future, no matter what hits it might have taken and no matter what challenges it might face. Because once you taste the freedom of flight, anything but that freedom just isn't free enough.

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