Heavy Iron

Vapor Maker by Angelo Bufalino (TheProparazzi)) on 500px.com
Vapor Maker by Angelo Bufalino

I wonder how many people on that airplane take flying for granted. How many people are sitting there right at that moment worrying about the stresses at work or at home, or absent-mindedly reading the junky, germy magazines and catalogs in the seat pocket in front of them. Maybe they are being absent-minded on purpose, because flying scares them a little bit, deep down.

I think with everything else going on in our lives we can easily take flying for granted. “Going to the airport” anymore is fraught with struggles. Sometimes we might struggle to get out the door with the family-in-tow, or struggle to get through traffic, and parked, and to the correct terminal, and through the check-in line. And then comes security–another post all in itself. They tell us to get to the airport at least 2 hours early, but every time I do, I end up waiting in an uncomfortable airport chair for 90+ minutes before boarding the airplane. The furniture is bad, the people are everywhere, the snacks are expensive, and the entertainment is slim. “I just want to be there already,” we think.

Finally when we’re allowed on the airplane we have to stand there while people take their sweet time trying to jam a too-large carry-on in the overhead compartment, then take off their coat–while still in the aisle–before taking their seat. Only to find that the person waiting right behind them actually has the window seat in that row. And when you finally find your seat there is a 2 year-old sitting behind you. And he’s whiny. And on and on and on.

Remember the first sentence of this post? I guess it’s no wonder so many people probably take flying for granted. The whole process can be one of the most stressful, aggravating experiences in daily life. But let’s not forget just how miraculous it is to be flying. Just how far we’ve come in a little over 100 years. Look at that picture above. Those are two of the most powerful engines ever created, each generating near 100,000 pounds of thrust. Look at the wings, with the vapor clouds–tell-tale signs of lift–being generated as the airfoil creates a large enough area of low pressure on top of the wing to pull the half-million pound weight of the airplane into the sky. In the fuselage there are a few hundred people who, in about 9 hours’ time will step off the airplane on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

These machines are amazing technological achievements. Let’s try not to let all the rest of the things we encounter while “going to the airport” get in the way.


I used to feel envious when people would drive by in their nice, new luxury cars. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, Maserati, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and on and on. I have to be honest, since I decided to get my pilot’s license, the feeling has changed. Don’t get me wrong: I still love cars, and Top Gear (the British version, of course) is one of my favorite shows. But I can’t look at them the same way anymore; whenever I see a great car, I can’t help but imagine the kind of airplane I would buy with that money*. I’d drive a scooter, I’d ride a bike, if it meant I could own an airplane.

And I don’t even mean a brand new Mooney or A36 or Cirrus, though I yearn to fly those. I don’t have that kind of money yet. I’m talking about an airplane probably as old or older than I am. One that will likely require my Dad’s prodigious skills as an A&P to get into safe, working, flying, order. One that even under those circumstances I will have to scrimp and save and barter and trade to keep it well maintained and myself well trained. But it will be mine. It will be mine to climb in and fly low and slow to wherever, whenever^.

Landibg by night by Guillaume tb-pict.com (Guill_aume)) on 500px.com
Landing by night by Guillaume tb-pict.com

*Except for the Nissan GTR–I really want one of those

^Weather permitting

Go do it

I am completely obsessed with flying. Hands-down, can’t stop thinking about it, praying for better weather and more money in my bank account, obsessed with flying.

I’m not even a licensed pilot yet. Yet. 35.6 hours and tantalizingly close to that checkride but I haven’t officially joined the club. That first landing and the first solo and the first cross country were intoxicating and addicting. But I’ve been obsessed for years longer than I’ve actually been flying.

Some of my earliest memories are of flying. My Dad was a mechanic in the airlines for years (New York Air/Continental/Comair/United Express) and I remember back when he could take me up to the flight deck and the pilots would let me sit in the captain’s chair as long as I didn’t touch anything. I just remember being enthralled by flying and anything to do with airplanes.

Then in the middle of his career, Dad found some entrepreneurial spirit, and opened an FBO at Dayton Wright-Brothers Airport (KMGY), called Pax Air. I was 7 or 8 at the time. It was a 10,000 square foot hangar and my parents, my sister, and I lived in a small apartment a few miles away. Suddenly, I found myself growing up on an airport, and I was in heaven. I browsed every Trade-a-Plane sitting in the lounge, built airplane models, memorized every airplane’s name, watched my Dad fixing their engines, and listened to the pilots talk about where they were headed or what they needed fixed. But most importantly, I found myself flying in many of the airplanes. My Dad had gotten his private ticket and I would go flying with him or with his customers and friends.

When it was just Dad and I he would let me think I was flying the airplane, though I could barely see over the instrument panel. Maybe he actually let me fly, despite not being able to reach the rudder pedals. I remember him teaching me that I needed to pull the yoke back a little in a turn so the airplane would hold altitude. I remember during takeoff he taught me what speed I could pull back on the yoke in order to lift off. Whether he actually let me perform the maneuvers myself I’m not sure. My memories are too saturated by the exhilaration I felt to be flying that I don’t remember if his hand was on the control. I know I couldn’t reach the pedals and I didn’t touch the throttle or mixture or anything else. But something must have sunk in.

Summer of 2012. Dad hasn’t been current in almost 15 years as he went back to the airlines. Only my little sister and her husband still live in Ohio. My parents live in Virginia. I’ve moved to New Jersey, become a biologist, and generally “grown up”. I realize that I had set a goal just out of high school, 10 years prior. The goal was that I would get my private pilot’s license by the time I was 30. God, how fast that decade went. In the summer of last year, I was 28 going on 29 in October, and it was time to fly again. I had looked at the flying school at Princeton Airport (39N) every so often since I moved to the area just out of college. But the price tag just seemed too high. “Later, after a few promotions,” I would think, unable to justify the $10,000 it would probably take. I realized that all that time I really could afford it, I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to prioritize it. I decided it was time. I wasn’t going to over-analyze the decision, the commitment, and the cost, because it would never happen. I just had to go do it.


After that 1 hr intro lesson I was pretty sure my Dad actually let me fly the airplane 20 years ago. My CFI said I was a natural, and I felt like I just had a sense of how to fly the airplane–except for the rudder pedals. Something must have sunk in.