Anyone’s Adventure

7 10 2010

There we were on a summer afternoon, an odd couple if there ever was one. Me, the pilot, in shorts and a t-shirt, riding left seat as usual, hands on the controls and concentrating on my cockpit. Snugly nestled into the seat at my right, my first-time passenger, in high-heeled wedge sandals and designer fashion, skeptically eyeing the dials on the instrument panel in front of her. On this day, she was a kind of virgin of the sky, on her first true aviation adventure.

I like taking up first-timers in light aircraft. Especially the veteran air travelers who have often used large airplanes to get from A to B, but never imagined doing this kind of thing for fun. These folks spend their lives at the back of the bus: herded like cattle from one terminal to the next, into long steel transportation tubes, the age of elegance in air travel long gone with the wind. (Unless you fly First Class on Emirates’ new A380. Which no normal person can afford anyway.)

They all have a decidedly lateral perspective on aviation.

 

Their view.

 

When they take a seat up front for the first time they gasp at the possibilities that unfold before them. Suddenly seeing the world out of the wide front windshield rather than out a porthole on the side is an entirely new experience that leaves many speechless. Due to anguish or excitement, I haven’t yet figured out.

 

My view.

 

In the past, the most complex tasks they had when flying were 1) to decide what they wanted for lunch and 2) figure out the entertainment system. (OK, that’s pretty complex…) When I give them the chance to drive the plane for a little while, they hang on to the yoke with a death grip. It’s funny – a few of them are naturals at flying straight and level. And others are hopeless. There is no in-between.

A first-timer asks fresh questions like: “Why does it feel like we are going so slow?” (As a tailwind propels us and the airspeed indicator shows a whopping 120 knots or 210 km/h.) Or they comment on things about which I have become blasé. “I’ve never seen the world like this before,” they say in awe as we cruise over landmarks they know only from the horizontal.

Those moments remind me how privileged I am.

Mountains are the great attraction of flying in Switzerland. I did my training in a region where the highest peak was maybe 1,500 feet (450 meters) above sea level. You could see the weather come for miles, and the words “downdraft,” “density altitude” and “paraglider” belonged to a foreign language. Exploring the Alps from above brought a new, thrilling dimension to my hobby, along with about a million more things to think about when at the controls of a single-engine piston aircraft.

 

Our view.

 

Even when earthbound, my thoughts are often airborne. Whenever my brain registers the hum of an engine overhead, I am programmed to look up. I always wonder what the view is like today from that cockpit. How are the weather conditions? Where is the pilot going and where did she come from? Is she up with first-timers? Or alone for a personal spin? Distancing herself from a worry, and trying to find a solution?

The fog that descends on Zurich for much of the autumn will probably keep me grounded for the next few weeks, but I look forward to taking off on a crisp, clear, sunny winter day when everything sparkles – the snow, the air outside the cockpit and my breath. And maybe I can convince another first-timer to come with me on a fairy-tale adventure like that, so that s/he can discover that other-worldly feeling of true freedom.

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2 responses

7 10 2010
Naaahfick

makes me reminiscent of my flight with you and a wish I could go again and this time see the mountains!

8 10 2010
Evelynn Starr

Oh man, I am so sorry they hid the mountains when you were here, Naaahfick. That is so typical Swiss – promise unconditional beauty and then set conditions.

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