The conviction to fly didn’t settle on me until my mid-30’s. I mean, learning to fly, myself; I’d always loved airplanes, deeply. In all honesty, I didn’t have the confidence to even conceptualize myself in the left seat learning to be a pilot. Anyway, life gets busy, you have mounting responsibilities — you know how that goes.
Along the way crazy notions get inside your head? You didn’t necessarily conjure them, but nonetheless, they are there. For me, that notion was, “I’m probably not smart enough to fly…,” and, “I’d probably forget something and kill myself…,” “you know how forgetful I can be,” I’d say to myself. After all, flying airplanes must require some super-human intelligence and coordination skills nearly beyond measure.
Throughout life we each go through unique stages of personal growth. At around 30 years old, I met Tara. There’s something about loving a woman that can give you “super-human” feelings that may lead to doing “super-human” like activities — like flying. But I wasn’t sure yet. Then I met Kenny, who I now consider, next to Tara, my best friend. Kenny is one of those people who makes you feel better about yourself — about life, and being around him makes you want to be better. All of this positive reinforcement put me on a different path, a journey of self-evaluation and reconditioning. We humans often respond poorly to change — “the devil you know…,” so this was no walk in the part. After the dust settled, an opportunity to have an incredible flying experience appeared. This would be the great big shove that pushed me into a new paradigm.
My primary work at the time was a morning show host at a local radio station. The Collings Foundation was coming to town with a P-51 Mustang… they would be offering the opportunity to go up in the lauded war bird. After some encouraging words from the two important people mentioned above, through the promotion of the event, I was able to fly the P-51. (You can read about that here)
After the P-51 flight, I met JD, a retired airline pilot. He heard about my involvement in the P-51 promotion… given my interest in aviation, he offered a spot in a group he’d be taking to the Southwest Airlines training facility to fly in their Boeing 737 simulators. On the trip, were a couple of people JD taught to fly. His instructor credentials were still valid and he offered to give me lessons. The suggestion caught me off guard, I began to recall those old negative thoughts, but now they were less potent — a fleeting memory… someone I used to be. After all, JD was an easy going sort, and the people he’d taught to fly weren’t super-human.
The offer of flight lessons pestered my mind like an itch you can’t belay. Between JD’s suggestion and the P-51 ride, my love of planes had flooded back from childhood, like the post-flood swell of a dam breached. JD and I were never able to align our schedules, but the seed had been planted. With a turning point in my career, resulting in some free time, and a bit of cash, I went to the local airport and inquired about lessons, “this had to be done,” I thought. I spent several days inquiring about, who might be the best choice as an instructor.
CFI Carl, was the name that kept coming up in conversation, so I gave him a call. We agreed to have lunch and talk it over. Carl was in his early 60’s, easy-going, and highly experienced. I’m sure he’d been mad before, but I’d only have to assume it. Given my personal history, he was the perfect instructor. Reality proved this out, as he let me screw up bad enough to learn, but stay alive while doing it — dignity in tact, mostly. His demeanor never changed. I now realize, my awkward and improper control inputs were probably not uniquely terrible.
I got the license; a year later I added an instrument rating.
Occasionally, I think about some of those early flying moments and smile. I didn’t realize how healing the experience would be.
I can truly say: learning to fly and the people involved — changed my life. They changed the way I see myself… they changed the way I see the world.
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