It seems as if humans have an intrinsic desire to be in the sky. Looking towards the heavens, we all have an urge to soar through the skies and play with the wind. The world above the ground has always called my name. So, I decided I would solo an airplane.
My aircraft was a Cessna 150, which is a tiny, single-engine plane. It has room for two adults and has a small section behind the fabric-covered seats that is big enough to hold a suitcase. Compact and made for flight training, this plane is smaller than a two-door compact car.
My quest for a pilot’s license began with ground school. After becoming familiar with the mechanics of the aircraft and learning the physics and aerodynamics of flight, I took to the sky with my instructor. Airplanes have duel instruments, two sets of controls, so that the copilot can control the plane if something goes wrong. During my first trip, and a few after, I mimicked my instructor’s actions to get a feel for the plane.
You might think that flying is somewhat like driving a car. But until you’re actually in the airplane, you don’t realize how far from the truth that is. On land, we’re used to being aware of only a few controls, like speed and gas level. We’re used to consistently glancing in our review view and side mirrors because we’re surrounded by other vehicles. And we’re used to quickly and efficiently changing speeds and coming to complete stops.
That’s not the case with flight–the ability to go up and down changes everything. A Cessna has around 15 gauges, measuring everything from altitude to engine power to horizontal degree ratio. Unless you’re near a runway, traffic isn’t really an issue. Changing directions takes on a whole new meaning, as you can stay level and turn or manipulate the wing angle to go “sideways”. Yet, despite all the differences, you feel that same sense of elation and empowerment in the air as when you’re racing a car down an empty highway.
After about eight hours of flight training, I was ready for my first solo flight. Completely in control, I powered up the engine and roared off the grass runway. When I felt the wheels lift from the ground, I whooped loudly in glee. I was actually doing it! I climbed through the sky, towards the place where I so often gazed. I appreciated the nuances of the wind’s power, the delicacies of the sunbeams and the beauty of aerial twilight–in blissful solitude. When I returned to Earth, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment and just a little bit melancholy because it was over.
Soloing is one of the first big steps to becoming a pilot. After logging 40 hours of ground school, you will have a chance to experience cross-country trips (a minimum of 5 hours), night flying, and many safety and instrument maneuvers. The final step is taking the Federal Aviation Association written test, at which point you are allowed to fly alone and with passengers at any time.
Many adventure sports, like zorbing or skydiving, emphasize a fleeting excitement; you let yourself go and exist freely in the moment. It’s a release. Refreshingly unique, flight is much more of a cognitive activity and a time commitment (more along the lines of scuba diving). It’s not just about overcoming the fear of actually doing something; it’s about having the courage and confidence to become a master.