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Taking To The Sky

Most Anyone Can Fly in an Airplane, But Only a Fortunate Few Can Do The Flying
Phil Scott
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

I took my friend Robert flying early last spring. Or rather, a flight instructor and I did. While I am a licensed pilot, at the time I wasn't "current," as they say in the piloting vernacular. That means I hadn't made three takeoffs and landings to a full stop within the preceding 90 days, so I had to have an instructor on board before I could legally give rides to anyone.

When I had completed my requisite three landings and was taking the airplane around for a fourth for good measure, I turned to check on Robert. He was strapped in the back looking quite contented with this thing we call flight. Right then, I had this brilliant idea.

"You want to give it a try?" I yelled to him over the engine.

He shrugged. "Sure!" he shouted back. So I negotiated a quick lesson with the instructor (who is always happy to get another student), and after landing I braked the airplane, hopped out onto the tarmac of the small New Jersey airport, and held the door open while Robert got situated in the pilot's seat. I shut the door and watched them taxi toward the business end of the runway. As the small Cessna roared down the runway and flew out of sight, I felt like an anxious parent seeing his kid take the bike around the corner for the first time. Only this bike cost $75 an hour to rent and as much as a new luxury car to replace. And that's without the instructor.

While I waited, I remembered my own first lesson, something I hadn't thought of in quite a while. It was a hot July afternoon in Kansas in an even smaller Cessna, and my first instructor and I were getting bounced around in the sky a bit. "Sorry about that," I kept repeating after every major bounce. It was like driving over potholes.

"Really, it's not your fault," he'd reply.

I felt queasy and ecstatic. "You think I have The Right Stuff?" I kidded him.

"Sure -- it just needs a little polish."

Conditions for Robert's first flight were much better -- calmer and cooler. Once he got back on the ground, he was positively gushing. "I've never felt so free before," he said. And later, over pizza, he kept gushing on and on about how he got to take off and how the cockpit smelled, and how it was like being in an eggshell with wings and how he was surprised that there was nothing high-techy about it and how the instructor let him fly it and how he even got to touch the controls during landing. He kept on gushing all the way back to Manhattan.

That's the part I'd forgotten about -- the excitement, the thrill of controlling for the first time a marvelous, winged machine, cunningly engineered to allow mere mortals to frolic in the sky. And how you want to tell everyone about it.


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