The clouds so white, the sky so blue, how perfect the summer day.
A warm, but not hot, ordinary Sunday in July. A day embroidered in clear heavenly blue, and angels all dressed in white and dancing, each to her own rhythm, across the sky unknown directions. It may have been a dream, but I don’t think so. Is there such a thing as a perfect day?
All my life I’ve loved everything about airplanes and flying. When I was young I often thought about getting a pilot’s license. But, you know, one thing or another… the car needed fixing, the house needed air conditioning, the kids needed school clothes, time for a vacation…
When I look back on all of the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve’s in my life – and there are a lot of them – one of my biggest is not learning how to fly.
When I was in my 30’s, a business friend of mine, invited me to fly with him in his Piper Comanche – a bold, 2-engine prop plane that looked sleek and beautiful from its silver cowlings to the tips of its majestic white tail. I will always remember that day, because it was the first time I every flew an airplane. It was only about a 35-minute flight, and I only handled the controls after takeoff… and I had to relinquish them before landing… but still I flew that plane.
I can remember my business friend, the pilot, telling me I was “heavy handed”. Just the slightest touch on the steering wheel – or yoke as pilots say – and the aircraft will respond… you don’t have to wrestle the controls. It took me a while to get the feel of the plane. At first the plane lurched up and down and from side to side as I yanked at yoke, turning it side to side and pushing it in and out. After being gently admonished, I realized that the slightest movement, right or left or in and out was all it took… the plane responded to a gentle touch.
That was decades ago, but I never forgot that day. It is a special day when you realize a dream, even if it was just a few wispy delicious slices of it. And that day with all its tiny bits of a much more grandiose dream has lived in my memory to this day.
So, you can imagine my surprise when my youngest son gave me a bigger slice of that dream… a one-hour, honest-to-goodness flying lesson with licensed flight instructor… an exceptionally enthusiastic and friendly guy whose name is Jake. It was the greatest Father’s Day gift ever. I don’t remember ever being given a dream for a gift before.
This past Sunday, on the most beautiful summer day this year, I met my son at the airport. The flying lesson was scheduled for 10:30, but when I’m about to dig into a nice-sized slice of a life-long dream, I wasn’t about to be late. I got there at 10. My son pulled up at 10:20… and we entered the airport together.
By this time, my old eyes are vigorously scanning the tarmac just outside the window trying to guess which plane would be the one to rekindle my dream and carry me skyward.
We met Jake, the instructor, in the office and he went over a few technical things. He showed us the maintenance log. It was filled with a couple dozen entries. This plane was not new, it had some character! Jake told us that every hundred hours the oil is change, and every 5000 miles. Now, I’m not sure of this figure because my eyes are still scanning he tarmac trying to guess which plane he was talking about… a Cessna 172… and my old carcass was anxious. I got the idea though: They basically tear the plane apart and rebuild it every so many thousands of flying hours, the log was full of scheduled maintenance items. I would have hated to have my dream go up in a flash in an ill-maintained aircraft. Jake said the FAA required periodic maintenance for the plane to be declared airworthy. Hooray for the FAA!
I was inching closer to my dream. The doors leading to the tarmac and all those glistening planes opened wide and we walked out onto the tarmac into a splendid summer sun. A few steps later, I was looking at the vessel that would carrying my lifelong dream, or a least a piece of it, to new heights… literally.
Then a really great thing happened.
Jake asked my son if he would like to come along – no extra charge…or maybe my son paid extra… he’d never tell me if he did. That, my friends, was when a perfect day got even better… the moment I found out that I’d be able to share this piece of my dream with him.
We did a walk-around. If you’ve never been a pilot or dreamed of being one for your whole life like I have, a walk-around is where the pilot walks around the outside the plane checking ailerons, flaps, elevators, struts, tires. landing gear, engine cowling, propeller blade, pitot tubes and all kinds of other arcane pilot-type things. And just like a boat, the plane has red and green lights, starboard and port, so other pilots know whether you’re coming and going. I wanted to be going.
But another thing that made this day even nicer, was that Jake, who has probably done this kind of walk-around a thousand times, was so enthusiastic about it. He spoke to us as if this was the first time he’d ever done it. It was obvious that he really enjoyed sharing his knowledge with us.
On the threshold of a dream…
After the walk-around, we all climbed in to the plane. Guess where I was sitting? In the seat of my dreams. The seat on the left. That’s the pilot’s seat. I felt like a kid… probably acted like one too. The instructor was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat to my right, and my son was the back seat, camera in hand, buckled in and ready for takeoff… and I’m sure feeling a little uneasy… with me sitting in the pilot’s seat.
There’s a key to turn on the power, carbs to prime, throttles to adjust, communications to check… I never thought pieces of a dream could come together so quickly.
I am trying to follow the instructions… pull on this, turn that, make sure of something else. I guess I did everything right, because the next thing I know, the instructor is calling the tower on a frequency of one-two-five-point-eight asking for permission to taxi to runway two-four left. He tells the tower we have “information X-ray”. [Every hour the airport information is updated with the current conditions: Temperature, wind velocity, wind direction, barometer, sky conditions, etc. Each hour they change the letter designation. Information X-Ray …for the letter X… would be followed the next hour by information Zulu (Z)… and that would be followed by information Alpha (A).]
The tower instructs us to taxi to runway two-four left and hold. He’s steering with his feet… and I’m looking around feeling as if I am on the edge of a dream… because I really am.
We pull up short of runway two-four left. Jake tells me how to read the markings on the asphalt that divide the taxiway from the active runway. We stop short of runway two-four left, right on the correct marks on the taxiway. Jake calls the tower and requests permission to take off.
I hear the tower controller say: “Seven-three-zero echo, you’re cleared for takeoff, runway two-four left. After takeoff, climb to fifteen hundred and turn right heading three-six-zero.” We are the aircraft designated as “seven-three-zero-echo” – which I think is a fine name for a this wonderful slice of a dream.
Jake acknowledges the tower by saying “seven-three-zero-echo… clear for takeoff.”
Let the dream begin…
The Cessna 172’s engine roars, the prop starts spinning so fast it that it becomes invisible, and the little plane lurches forward and races down the runway.
Suddenly, we are airborne. The dream is really off the ground. I’m flying!
We climb into a perfect summer sky. At fifteen hundred feet, Jake banks the plane to the right, and says to me, “You have the controls”.
Me? I have both hands on the control wheel – the yoke – excited and nervous. Jake tells me to head for the twin smoke stacks that sit near the shore of the lake.
“What smoke stacks?” I ask, and I’m not trying to be funny. “The ones over there”, Jake says pointing at the smoke stacks that I can’t see. Then he says, “there’s no smoke coming out of them.”
I am looking and looking, straining my aged eyes, when finally I see them. There they are… two white smoke stacks right on the shoreline.. I wonder to myself how could I have missed them. “I’m really old” I say out loud to myself.
I nudge the yoke just a bit to the left and the Cessna responds instantly. Two minutes later, the front of the plane is lines up with those smokestacks. I look at the altimeter and we’re flying level at thirty-seven hundred feet.
Dreams do come true…
Jake tells me to fly wherever I want. Wherever I want? Really? I’d have flown that plane for 2000 miles to Arizona… but I this dream had a one-hour time limit. So, I followed the shoreline to the northeast holding steady at thirty-seven hundred and bearing zero-six-zero. Do I sound like a pilot? I am a pilot, at least at least for the moment.
Jake told me to turn right, to one-eight-zero – south – and then turn left on a heading back to the airport. He tells me start a slow decent. I started the turn to the south. Suddenly, it occurs to me that it is true, time does fly – no pun intended- and it absolutely does when you’re in right in the middle of a dream.
Heading west back to the airport I nudge the control wheel forward gently, the plane starts a gentle decent… 3000, 2700, 2500, 2200. Gently gliding under that beautiful crystalline-blue canopy painted perfectly with dreamy white clouds.
The picture perfect day for a dream to come true.
Gently turning the plane to the wet, I lined the plane up with the runway as we descended through fifteen hundred feet. By now, my son is more relaxed. He’s actually impressed with the smooth ride and the way I handled the plane. I don’t think he is aware that I have spent many an hour reading about flying, learning the language and the technology – and I can say this now – crashing all kind of planes flying them on the flight simulator on my PC.
I’ve been a pilot most of my life… in my imagination.
Jake landed the plane gently despite a pretty good crosswind off the lake. The plane rolled slowly to a stop. I had tears in my eyes.
What a beautiful Father’s Day gift from my youngest son — a dream he delivered in person. I was a pilot for almost 40 minutes and this time not just in my imagination.
I find it hard to believe and so amazing that my son knew so much about the dream I’ve kept locked up inside me for all these years. I never really talk about it, although I have tried to get him to take flying lessons several times…always adding “I wish I would have gotten my license when I was your age.” Nudge. Nudge.
Being a pilot for forty minutes was a big slice of a dream come true, but the rest of the day was pretty special too.
We decided to have lunch after the flying lesson. We walked out of airport. My son, decided to bring me up to speed on the ways of the modern world. He showed me how to use Uber. A tap on the screen of his i-Phone, an a Uber driver appeared and gave us a ride to a German restaurant downtown – a couple of miles away. I’ve been Uberized!
At the restaurant, my son and I sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a wonderful lunch – not the food, though it was good– but spending time with him was the best and most special part of lunch.
My son has gone on with his own life and been very successful I’m proud of him. He has beautiful wife and a beautiful precocious daughter. And now he has a baby on the way. He won’t tell me if it’s a boy or girl, although I think it’s a boy. But no matter how I try to pry it out of him, he’s not going to tell me.
We sat in the sunshine talking. And it was the way it always is with him. We can be apart for months and then sit down together as if no time has passed at all. The conversation flows. We always have plenty to talk about. Even if it’s nothing at all.
It was getting late and he had things to do,. But instead of tapping on his i-Phone for another Uberizing… we decided we’d walk back to the airport to get our cars. This was a great idea because it gave us more time to spend together… and more time to talk.
We have always enjoyed walking together and talking as we do. It’s something we’ve done since he was a little boy. Back then we’d take midnight strolls – as we’d call them – though it was rarely midnight and the stroll was only a block or so in each direction. It was a big deal then – to both of us. I’ll never forget them, and I’m pretty sure he won’t either.
Sometimes it’s the littlest things make the most wonderful memories. And sometimes it’s having someone love you so much that they know exactly what to do to touch something like a dream that has been hidden and kept deep inside… when no one else even has a clue.
To my youngest son… Thank you for the most special Father’s Day gift. Thank you for giving me a day full of beautiful memories. You can be sure, it was a day that I will never forget. Thank you so much for giving me a chance to touch my dream. I love you.
I was flying… and I still am.