One of my goals this year was to learn how to fly again. I haven’t flown by myself since my solos when I was preparing for my license, and that was — gulp! — five years ago. (Technically I can’t even go up on my own again until an instructor puts me through my paces and signs me off as good to go.) When I look back at what was going on in my life in 2012, though, it was understandable. I pretty much lived in Florida, helping Mom take care of Dad, and then helping my brother take care of both of them. That time was so special and important to me. After they died, life was about taking apart our family house and, well, grieving all that went along with it. Flying — and just about everything else — was the last thing on my mind. I certainly didn’t have the mental commitment to hit the books again, which I’d need to do, nor the time commitment to show up at the airport regularly.
It’s not as if I wasn’t up in the sky: I fly with John in the Starfighter and we’ve had many a happy adventure, so I started wondering if it really mattered that much whether or not I was an active pilot. I learned how to fly and I got my license, which is no small accomplishment considering that less than one quarter of 1 % of US citizens are certified pilots, and of those, only 6% are women. So, maybe it was enough just to say I did it… who says you have to keep up the same hobbies and interests forever?
Last year though, the little yellow Aeronca Champ I learned how to fly in was for sale. (I still see it sitting in the open hangar at MRT when I showed up asking about lessons… stars on its wings just like Ryan’s Luscombe. It was meant to be!) A few of us at the airport got together and we bought the Champ, which made it super-affordable, and this would certainly be my chance to get back up in the sky by myself again. I was excited. An airplane that that I could just wheel out of the hangar whenever I wanted, without always having to be dependent on John to take me up.
Not that I don’t love flying with John. It is, after all, how we met. But not being able to fly by myself is kinda like being stuck forever with a drivers’ license learners permit… you can’t go anywhere without an adult in the car.
I also realize that when I fly front-seat with John, I tend to use him as a crutch: I know he’s back there and won’t let me crash into a tree or ground loop my landing. But I won’t become a better pilot if I always fly with training wheels, and on some level that would always leave me dependent on another person for my flying happiness. I always want to choose to fly with John, not have to.
Just as the weather warmed up, though, the Champ’s engine seized during a ground run-up. John spent the summer taking it apart to figure out what was wrong, found a new engine, put it in… etc, etc. It was unflyable all summer.
Meanwhile the Starfighter was down with an air leak we couldn’t locate. It was not a summer for flying, and so I didn’t feel very inspired. In fact, I was about ready to give up again.
Why did I feel so ambivalent/discouraged? I think what weighed the heaviest was my fear that I’d really have to start from scratch again. It isn't like riding a bicycle unless you've ridden a bicycle for a good while, and I hadn’t flown in a LONG time, nor had I been at it long enough to really build much muscle memory.
By September though, both planes were up and running, and John just put me in the front seat of the Champ one day and said “Start the engine!”
We flew over autumn in Ohio farm country. Yellow and green and ochre fields quartered by stick-straight country roads. We flew to Packer Field for a picnic under the wing. We flew in circles around little rain showers.
We flew to Freeman Swank Field in Butler, swooping in over the valley just before the sun set, and finally went "Champing" again (which is short for camping in the Champ, of course!)
The next morning we took off accompanied by our very own shadow.
Magic! And so I felt it in my bones again: how could I not want to be able to get into this airplane and fly it on my own? On a day when popcorn puffy clouds are floating in the sky and a picnic is calling.
As it turned out, I actually kinda sorta remembered how to take off and land, which surprised me. I kept asking John: “You didn’t secretly land for me?” “Nope.” he said. So now I am looking forward to slightly warmer weather and a 2018 that involves being able to fly on my own again.
It’s so easy to convince yourself you’ve lost a desire for something when circumstances prevent you from doing it. When there’s baggage wrapped up in it too. Memories. Frustrations. Self-doubt. Not to mention the occasional complexities of having your flight instructor also be your husband. But like anything else you once valued that might not seem as shiny as it once was, don’t we owe it to that thing to give it at least one more go? How else do we find out if our lack of interest is legitimate or just a bunch of mopey self-chatter?
So try it one more time. Whatever it is. On a day when there is magic out the window that will pull the this-is-why-you-loved-it-in-the-first-place up out of the hole it somehow got buried in.