Ever had that moment in time when you were seized with terror and excitement, both at the same time? For me, one of those moments happened on the day I was released to fly an aircraft by myself for the first time.
Leading up to that particular life juncture involved what seemed to be an impossible task. I had to digest aeronautical rules and regulations; grasp the theory of flight; acquire and manipulate the new language of air traffic control (and make enough sense of it not to cause undue calamity to others).
Additionally I had to become intimately familiar with all aspects of Meteorology, because I was about to enter a realm normally frequented by those indigenous to that dimension…the true feathered guardians of flight. I would have to negotiate the physiological and mental balancing act of actually launching a contraption made up of thousands of pounds of metal rubber and aviation gasoline, in a questionable attempt to defy gravity for an allotted period of time.
Initially, this was accomplished with a flight instructor; and let me state it for the record; those people seriously do not get paid enough for what they do! Most of you have an idea what it’s like learning to drive a car. The driving instructor supposedly has the patience of Job and nerves of steel. At least that is the theory. Now add wings and altitude and the potential drama can be compounded exponentially not only for the budding pilot, but the poor soul strapped in beside him with nothing but a barf bag and his or her own accumulated experience.
I was hooked on aviation from an early age. Even before I ever stepped foot on an actual aircraft, I was always fascinated by the sleek, jet-powered monsters screaming across the sky. Arriving from far-flung locales disgorging exotic nationalities while whisking away others to even more diverse destinations; there was a mystique about these machines that seemed to scoff in the face of all gravitational laws.
The first time I was ever afforded the opportunity of flight, my parents informed my brother, (7 years) and I (11 years) that we were departing from Kingston Jamaica and going to New York City to visit relatives. The day arrived for our departure and it still amazes me to this day that my parents had not invested in a full straight jacket to keep me from rushing out on to the tarmac. Up to this time I had only viewed these metal marvels from a distance; whether in flight overhead or seen parked from the airport’s public viewing gallery That day embodied barely restrained excitement as I suffered the slow moving line that led to the ticket agent guarding the exit to the ramp. After being called back several times by my parents I finally had the chance to forge ahead.
To an 11 year old, a McDonnell Douglas DC 8 may as well be the size of Canada. Wheels, wings, engines…all captivated me as I drew closer. If left to my own devices I would have initiated my own pre-flight inspection, but an 11 year old’s musculature is not sufficiently developed to wrest control from acutely attentive and deceptively strong mothers. Finally reaching the bottom of the air stairs and staring up an incline reminiscent of an Aztec temple, this soon to be airborne traveller proceeded upwards with renewed enthusiasm. Cresting the top of the stairs, we were met by what I firmly believed was an angel from heaven.
To say that I was immediately smitten with the boarding flight attendant would be an understatement. Oh, I had seen them in passing whenever I had been inside the airport terminal, but in this case I was the focus of her attention (at least until the next person behind me followed). Let’s see: already heightened sense of excitement and awe due to pending first flight + tall (at least twice my height) well-dressed gorgeous woman giving me her undivided attention with a radiant smile; I almost forgot I was eleven years old! If I were older I probably would have forgotten my name and why I was boarding the plane in the first place.
As I was ushered aboard, I happened to glance to the left and caught a glimpse of the cockpit and tunnel vision immediately locked into place.
Although I could not fully appreciate all that I was looking at, there was an immediate resonance that surpassed even my original encounter with the celestial being that had just greeted me. Knowing this was where the aircraft was controlled from, I then purposed to learn all I could about what it would take to fly an aircraft.