The clouds so white, the sky so blue, how bright 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 in 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 the should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve’s in my life – and there are a lot of them – one of my biggest is that I never got a pilot’s license.
When I was in my thirties, a business associate of mine, invited me to fly with him in his Piper Comanche – a bold, twin-engine prop plane that was 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 ever flew an airplane. It was only a 35-minute flight, and I only flew the plane after takeoff… I didn’t fly it during takeoff or landing, but I still flew that plane.
I can remember the business associate – commenting on my first attempt at flying an airplane, saying I was “heavy-handed”. Just the slightest touch on the steering wheel – or yoke as pilots say – and the aircraft responds. 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 the 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 planes respond best to a gentle touch.
Thought that was decades ago, I never forgot that day.
It is a special day when you realize a dream, even if it was just a few wispy delicious fragments of it. And that day, with all its tiny pieces of a much more grandiose dream, has lived in my memory since.
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 a licensed flight instructor, who turned out to be an exceptionally enthusiastic and friendly guy named Jake.
It was the greatest Father’s Day gift ever! I never received a slice of a dream as a gift before.
This past Sunday, on one of the most beautiful summer days so far this year, I met my son at a small regional airport. The flying lesson was scheduled for 10:30 AM, but when I’m about to live in an hour of a life-long dream, I wasn’t about to be late. I got there at 10. My son pulled up at 10:20 AM.
And we entered the airport together.
By this time, my old eyes were vigorously scanning the tarmac just outside the window trying to guess which plane would be the one to carry me into the sky… and into a dream.
We met Jake, the instructor, in an airport office and he went over a few technical things. He showed us the maintenance log. It was filled with a couple of dozen entries. This plane was not new, it had some character!
Jake told us that every hundred flight hours the oil is changed.
Let me tell you… my old carcass was anxious, so I was only half-listening as I peered out the window still trying to guess which plane was “mine”.
As distracted as I was, I got the idea though: They tear the plane apart and rebuild it after so many thousand flying hours. The plane’s log was full of scheduled maintenance items. I would have hated to have my dream go up in a flash because of 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 be carrying my lifelong dream, or a least a piece of it, to new heights… literally. A Cessna 172.
Then a really wonderful 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 my son.
When we got to the plane, we did what they call “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 of the plane checking ailerons, flaps, elevators, struts, tires. landing gear, 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 get going. When you’re so close to a dream, you don’t want to wait.
And one other thing I want to mention is how great Jake was. No doubt that has done this kind of walk-around a thousand times, yet he was so enthusiastic. He spoke to us as if this were 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 into 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 and probably acted like one too. The instructor was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat to my right, and my son was in 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 this and that, or 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, 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 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.
We climb into the cloudless, perfect summer sky. At fifteen hundred feet, Jake banks the plane to the right, and says to me, “You have the controls”.
I have both hands on the yoke – excited and nervous. Jake tells me to head for the twin smokestacks ahead, the ones near the lakeshore.
“What smokestacks?” I ask, and I’m not trying to be funny. “The ones over there”, Jake says pointing at the smokestacks that I can’t see. Then he says, “there’s no smoke coming out of them.”
I am looking and looking, straining my old eyes when finally, I see them. There they are… two white smokestacks right on the shoreline. I wonder to myself how could I have missed them. “I’m really old,” I say whisper 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 lined 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 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 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 to start a slow descent. 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 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 descent… 3000, 2700, 2500, 2200. Gently gliding under a beautiful crystalline-blue canopy painted perfectly with just a few dreamy white clouds.
It is a picture-perfect day for a dream to come true.
Gently turning the plane to the west, I lined the plane up with the runway as we descended through fifteen hundred feet. By now, my son is more relaxed. He’s 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 kinds of planes flying them on the flight simulator on my PC.
I’ve been a pilot most of my life… in my dreams.
Jake landed the plane gently despite a fairly 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 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.
Being a pilot for forty minutes was a dream come true, but the rest of the day was special too.
We decided to have lunch after the flying lesson. We walked out of the 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 iPhone, and a Uber driver appeared and gave us a ride to a German restaurant a few 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.
My son is a grown man and has his own life. been very successful and I’m proud of him. He has a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters.
We sat together, father and son, in the sunshine just 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 had passed at all. The conversation flows. We always have plenty to talk about. Even if it’s about nothing at all.
It was getting late, and he had things to do, But instead of tapping on his iPhone 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. 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 important then – to both of us. I’ll never forget those “midnight strolls”, and I know he won’t either.
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that 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 deep inside – like the life-long dream I’ve kept hidden deep inside.
To my youngest son… Thank you for your amazing and special Father’s Day gift. Thank you for giving me a day so full of beautiful memories. You can be sure that it was a day I will never forget.
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to touch my dream. I love you.
I was flying. And I still am.