Off the Leash: How was your weekend? I flew a plane

Even at about 3,000 feet with the engine running and while wearing a noise-canceling headset, I swear could still hear Katniss, my German shepherd mix and the shameless star of this blog, whining as I flew over my house.

Yeah, I flew over my house today.¹ It was no big deal.

My house—and Katniss—is in this picture. Can you guess which one it is?
You might think this is a patch of beautiful blue sky, but it’s actually a photo of my pants taken accidentally. Isn’t your life more enriched for knowing that?

A couple of years ago my father-in-law, a pilot, got me a discovery flight ticket for Christmas, as he knew how much I love all things flying-related. As time went by and work and life got more hectic, we never went on the flight, the purpose of which is to allow the participant to briefly fly a small plane and get a view of Austin from the air. I’m sure some discovery flight flyers go on to take lessons.

Anyway, my father-in-law and I finally made the time to go on the flight, and it was way more casual—and fun—than a typical flight you might have with an airline. We simply walked out of the hangar and got in the plane. We didn’t have to go through security, wait for hours during a layover or worry about luggage—which seems absolutely unfathomable in this day and age.

As we flew over my beloved adopted hometown with ease, as many airplanes do every day, I couldn’t help but think of my actual hometown, Dayton, Ohio, and my heroes, the Wright brothers, who were from Dayton. What would they have thought if they were in the plane with us?² It was humbling to think that two guys with high school diplomas and no advanced educations, probably not much older than our instructor pilot along with us, built a flying machine with their bare hands in the same century in which I was born, and their invention revolutionized the world. At that moment, up in the air with all of my anxieties back on the ground, I was never more proud to be from Dayton—and I’m really, really proud to be from Dayton pretty much every minute of my life.

Then it was my turn to briefly fly the plane. As a lifelong fan of aviation, I knew the basics of how the plane worked—how the cross-section of the wing was shaped to generate lift, how to steer the plane and the basic layout of the cockpit. I felt surprisingly at home at the controls, aside from the more technical aspects of flying, such as communicating constantly with the ground or adjusting the fuel mixture. It felt fairly similar to the flight simulation video games I’ve spent my whole life playing, aside from the fact that I wasn’t trying to shoot someone else out of the sky or performing ridiculous stunts. Then again, the instructor pilot handled all the more difficult aspects, such as takeoff and landing, as well as doing the lion’s share of the flying.

We flew pretty close to where the University of Texas plays football, Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Even as an Ohio native, I could never stomach Ohio State University, its football team or our state’s borderline psychosis over OSU football. Just thinking about the scarlet and gray Buckeyes makes me angry. Hook ’em, Horns! And no, I was not piloting the plane when I took this photo.

Within mere minutes, it seemed, we were back on the ground, as if flying among the birds, as mankind had dreamed of doing for thousands of years, was as easy as breathing. I’ve flown while shoehorned into large airliners dozens of times as a passenger, as many of us likely have, but being in such small confines—the plane only held three people—and being able to fly briefly myself and watch the instructor pilot fly with ease, gave me a different aspect on flying. I’m sure the awe of piloting oneself in whatever direction one chooses struck the Wrights and other Ohio natives—astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, to name a couple—much in the same way.

Here’s some words of wisdom from another, more random, view from the pilot’s chair.

The best part, perhaps, of flying was that as a constant worrier of all things, I had no space in my brain to think of anything else but the task at hand and marvel at the entire experience. And that, dear reader, is the greatest gift my father-in-law could ever give me, aside from being OK with me marrying his daughter.


¹And boy are my arms tired! Anyone? Anyone? No? I always liked that joke.

I always get the Wright brothers mixed up, but in this photo Orville is the one with the mustache. One hundred-plus years later, Orville’s mustache and others like it are all the rage with hipsters here in Austin.

²Orville and Wilbur are long dead, so they would probably first wonder how they wound up in an airplane with me, and since there’s only room for three people in the little Cessna plane, they wouldn’t even fit in the cabin with us unless they sat on someone’s lap. Talk about awkward.


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