I Love to FlyJanuary 16th, 2020
I’m not talking about sitting in an economy class seat in a Boeing 737, I mean sitting behind the controls of a Cessna 150, flying through a clear summer sky. Flying light planes is wonderfully addictive. Especially flying out of country airports when nobody else is in the air and you have the whole runway and traffic pattern to yourself.
A friend of mine owns a Cessna 150 and from time to time we’ll go flying together. It’s great fun. After we pre-flight the plane, we taxi down to the end of the runway, do the engine check, then roll onto the active runway, push the throttle full-in and feel the plane lift off into silky summer air. It’s challenging to try to make every landing letter perfect—get the airplane’s power and attitude set for the right rate of descent and airspeed, then as you approach your intended touch-down point, throttle back, keep increasing back-pressure on the control yoke, and let the plane settle smoothly onto the asphalt.
In fact it’s so much fun that you have to do it again, so while the plane’s still rolling, turn the carburetor heat off, put the flaps up, push the throttle in, and lift off for another circuit of the the traffic pattern.
No kid with a toy could have more fun. And it’s been that way for me ever since my first ride in a light plane in May 1958. I was twelve years old. You can’t get a pilot’s license until you are sixteen years old but my father wanted to get me interested in flying early in my life, and it worked. I’ve been interested ever since.
In those days the Columbia Municipal Airport was like many other country airports. No airline traffic, no security (because we didn’t need any) just a bunch of privately owned planes, and Columbia Flying Service.
For my first flight on that long ago Sunday in May a kindly flight instructor named Cotton Woods, who owned Columbia Flying Service, settled me on a pile of cushions in the front seat of an Aeronca 7AC, then clambered into the back seat, and off we went. We flew around the traffic pattern a time or two while he let me feel how the stick and rudder controls the plane. He was a very experienced pilot, and had been teaching boys (and girls) how to fly for years and years, so he knew exactly how to help kids overcome their apprehension and begin to experience the joy of flying.
I started getting serious about getting my private pilot’s license in high school and finally got it. But even when I wasn’t scheduled for a lesson, on summer afternoons my buddies and I would sometimes drive out to the Columbia Airport just to wander around the hanger looking at the parked planes, the Piper J3s, the Aeronca Champs, and the Cessna 120s. The smell of air-washed aluminum and fabric smelled like perfume to us.
So on clear summer days when I’m outside doing this or that and I hear the faint sound of a Cessna high overhead in an infinitely blue sky, I look up at that tiny speck in the sky and feel the same longing to be up there that I have felt since I was twelve years old.