I find it delightful when a person’s surname points toward their true passion. There’s Sharon Penman, bestselling writer of historical fiction. And Jeremy Wade, Animal Planet’s extreme freshwater angler.
This guest post is by Bob Cloud, who finally realized his dream of flying.There is a wilderness area about an hour from home where my wife and I would take our kids to get away from all things urban and tune into nature.
We drove by the same rural airport on each adventure. Year after year, I watched the many small craft that called those runways home and would feel a resurgent desire to get in the air.
I became interested in flying when I was 12, after my mother passed. It came with a sudden and surprising detachment from the fear, confusion, and pain of loss. As strange as it sounds, I had the feeling that some part of me was just along for the ride, taking notes for future review and that I was the official observer of me.
After reading a book about bush pilots in the Yukon, I decided I would go fly in Alaska. My dad shot the idea down, of course, so I finished high school and started college. Big mistake, I hated it, and dropped out to join the Navy.
I learned aircraft electrical systems and was assigned to an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) squadron. I flew some years as a crewman on the Lockheed P2V-7 patrol bomber. The Cold War was at its height and ASW was one of America’s primary weapons against the threat of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.
I was heavily involved in intelligence gathering activities that had national and international implications. It was dangerous work. Some aircraft and crews were lost, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But when you’re twenty years old, you think you’re bulletproof.
Patrol flights were long, frequent, and covered hundreds of miles. You flew eight to ten hours a day with very few days off. I developed an affinity for the aircraft and the laws of physics that created sustained flight.
I also felt a sense of comfort when in a remote environment. And believe me, the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is about as remote a wilderness as you can find.
Those years with the Navy intensified my interest in flying. That passion stayed with me for life.
After leaving service, I worked for a few years in surveying and then in aircraft manufacturing. Later I sold real estate and insurance. I wanted to do something else but had no idea what that “something else” was. I had a family so I couldn’t jump and run.
The years flew, but I didn’t.
I spent the last three decades of my professional life in the corporate signage industry. But in the few years before retirement, I revisited my (now) ancient fantasy of flying.
One day I was driving through that wilderness area where my wife and I took our kids for so many years. I passed the rural airport, its small planes taking off and landing. I stopped dead in the middle of that country road and wondered what flight lessons would cost.
A couple weeks later, I found myself on the same road, watching the same air activity. This time I drove into the airport and talked to one of the flight instructors. He was a retired airline captain who maintained his addiction to things airborne by teaching others to fly.
On my first training flight this super-professional retired pilot set us up in a Cessna 172. We taxied out to the end of the runway. He pointed out this and that.
Okay, I thought, that makes sense, I guess.
He pushed the throttle handle to full power and we rolled down the runway. I tried to feel what he was doing and how the aircraft reacted. We lifted off and climbed above 30 feet.
“You have the airplane,” he said and took his hands from the yoke. My heart leaped into my throat as I wrestled to keep the nose up. We continued to climb and finally gained altitude despite my greenhorn ineptness and the plane bobbing up and down like a porpoise in the Gulf Stream.
It wasn’t pretty.
But he got the result he wanted and I was hooked. I spent the next couple of years in flight training for my private pilot license.
A few years later my wife and I were vacationing in Alaska. On a tour around town I discovered, you guessed it, a very nice municipal airport. I booked a flight with the owner.
The next day, as we roared down the runway, I realized that my life had come full circle.
During my teen years, I wanted to go fly in Alaska to escape the pain. Now I was in Alaska, about to lift off. As we reached rotation speed I eased back the yoke and felt the nose wheel come off the ground.
A second later we were airborne and I laughed out loud.
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. ~Leonardo da Vinci
In truth I’m a sometimes thing. I like quiet times with big band music but I also like things chaotic.
I’m drawn to mountains but I like the oceans beaches when storms roll in from around the world.
I like good whisky, spicy food and classic rock with amps cranked to eleven.
I enjoy the study of physics as it pertains to the flying of small airplanes that smell inside like an old Buick.
I’m a reader, a writer and a seeker of truth and beauty. I blog about life and flying at Paywindow 7.