Oh, I have slipped the surely bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of
from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
"That's it, Sandy. Just follow me on the controls and get the feel of it this time."
The voice came clearly through my headphones and my hands moved to rest lightly on the second stick. No yolk in this one. An old fashioned stick. For a few seconds we traveled straight and level and then the horizon rose slightly as we started down to pick up speed. Then it dipped once again as I felt myself begin to be pressed back into my seat. I could feel Sam's gentle pressure on his controls as we passed through level and the horizon continued to fall. I was forced more deeply into my seat as the horizon dropped totally out of sight and we began to claw our way up, up, up, all the while continuing to arch over further. Then we were passing the top, our heads now pointed towards the earth below but centrifugal force pulling us towards our feet as though we were still flying straight and level, until our continuing smoothly curved path brought our nose downward as we screamed down the back side of the loop until finally we were once more flying level with the horizon right where it should be in front of us.
I heard Sam's voice in my headphones and returned to the reality of the cockpit. I pushed the intercom switch. "Physically I'm fine. But otherwise I'm high as a kite." I gave a quick laugh. "Actually, quite a bit higher. I loved it, Sam. I want more."
"All in good time, all in good time. OK, we'll try another one. This time move the controls along with me. In fact, I'll just follow you and take it if you overdo anything."
"Roger." I took a deep breath and let my hands relax on the stick, my feet just touching the rudder pedals. A little forward pressure and I watched the air speed indicator begin to pick up as we started down the shallow slope.
"That's it. Let it gain another ten knots or so."
I didn't answer but when we reached the right speed I started back on the stick and we began to climb. "Good, good. That's just right." I held a smooth pressure and we made our way around the big circle until we once again reached the bottom and leveled out. "You are a natural at this, Sandy. I'd say there must be some bird in your genetics somewhere."
"I did say flying was in my family, didn't I? Really, Sam, did I do that all right?"
"More than all right. Best I've ever seen from a beginner. Really."
We spent another half hour with Sam taking me through several more maneuvers and letting me get the feel of them. I wasn't ready to try any of them completely on my own, but I could see that I might be before too many more lessons. At last he said, "OK, Batgirl, bring us back in."
I made a slight face at Sam's way of addressing me, but I wasn't going to say anything. He seemed to like the nickname and it really didn't bother me. It was better than Junior Birdwoman, anyway.
I turned back towards the airport and made my approach. This plane was designed for acrobatics and handled a bit differently than those I had flown before. Even though this was my first time in this type I had picked up a feel for it fairly quickly and my approach and landing were pretty smooth. I taxied over to the hanger and made an orderly shutdown. As the engine died the silence replacing the torrent of sound which had been engulfing us for the last forty five minutes seemed to lift a physical weight from my shoulders and I felt them relax as I removed my headphones. Actually with modern noise canceling headphones the sound isn't overwhelming but you are still aware of it and if you lift the phones for any reason it becomes a physical assault.
We climbed out and I helped Sam move the plane and tie it down before we headed inside to his office. Sam was in his fifties, an ex-Air Force fighter pilot, and had been my flight instructor for the last two years. He had seen me through my commercial license and Instrument rating and I couldn't imagine a better flight instructor. Always ready to guide me but never pushing too hard or being overly aggressive. After the last lesson I had said something about "milk runs" and Sam had replied, "Getting bored? Maybe you'd like to try some acrobatics. Come on out Friday and I'll give you a taste for free." He knew I was on a tight budget. Flying is expensive, especially when you have to pay an instructor also.
"You mean in that low wing job over in the next bay? I'd love that, Sam."
"OK, then Friday, say about two. That sound all right?"
"Perfect! I'll be here."
Now as we went into his office I think my feet never touched the ground. He moved behind his desk and I took a seat in front of it. "Well, how did you like it?"
"Fantastic! I loved every second of it."
"Want to come back tomorrow, say about ten, and try some more?"
"Oh, Sam, I'd love to but I don't know if I can afford it."
He sat back for a few seconds in thought. Then he slowly said, "Suppose I throw in the instruction for free and you just pick up the regular wet rental cost?"
My eyes opened wide. He was making me quite an offer. Almost shaking I replied, "For that I'll manage somehow, but, Sam, that isn't fair to you. You should get paid for the instruction."
His face turned a little more serious. "Sandy, you are the kind of student who comes along only once in a blue moon. You have a potential I've rarely seen and it wouldn't be right to let it go to waste. I know you aren't planning on flying for a living but flying is a deep part of you never the less. Having a student like you is reward enough for me."
I felt my face go warm at this unexpected high praise. "Thank you, Sam. I don't know that I'm quite that good, but I really would like to learn some acrobatics." Then I hesitated for a few seconds. "I would love to take you up on the offer for tomorrow but I'm afraid it'll be another two weeks before I can even pay the rental."
He smiled at me. "Don't worry about that. You can owe me. Sandy, honestly, I've never had a student take to acrobatics like you just did. I think you must have been born with wings."
Was I born with wings? Maybe not really but as I had told Sam there was aviation in my family. My dad had been Air Force and flew F-16s. His Dad had flown F-105s in Nam. My mom's grandfather had flown P-38s in Europe and his brother had piloted B-29s over Japan. I was never interested in a military career but the flying always did fascinate me. I remember my dad took me flying in a Cessna when I was six and even let me move the yolk a little. From then on I was hooked. Like all the other kids I got my driver's license when I was sixteen but I was less excited about that than starting flight lessons. Before my seventeenth birthday I had soloed and now, at twenty-two, I had private and commercial license and instrument ratings.
As Sam had remarked I wasn't going to earn a living flying. I had graduated the year before with a degree in Information Technology and I had a job running the IT department for a small biotech company. But flying was still a major factor in my life. I flew whenever I got a chance. Somehow when I climbed into the cockpit and left the earth below I became more complete. On the ground I was a cog in a machine - a very successful cog, I'll admit, but still a part of something over which I had no control. In the air I was complete. Just myself and the aircraft and sometimes it felt hard to separate the two. Alone, up in the sky, far away from everything else, I was complete. Complete, fulfilled, and happy.
Perhaps this had something to do with my less than successful love life on the ground. I'm not unattractive. I'm five foot seven, slim, in quite good shape physically. I have shoulder length auburn hair, deep green eyes and a figure most men find quite attractive. Maybe a little small in the boob department, but not really too small. I've been told my face is quite nice and I have seen a number of men closely watching my long legs and enjoying the view as I walk past them. No, the problem is not in getting men to notice me, but rather in keeping them.
It's not like I don't want more. In fact, quite the opposite. I've tried meeting men in a number of different ways. I've even tried the bar scene a couple of times but while I had no trouble meeting men there, there weren't any I wanted to see anywhere else. I have tried a couple of on-line dating services, looking for someone with some interests in common, especially flying. I tried meeting men around the airports. OK, picking up men around the airports, but not with the idea of taking them home to bed. Just to hopefully find someone I can get along with and who can get along with me.
I think a lot of it was just that most men don't know quite how to handle a girl who flies planes as much as I do. Even a lot of the male pilots I knew seemed to be a little touchy about it. One of them once hinted that it was because I had a lot more in my log book than most of them even years older than I am. Once I mentioned that comment to Sam and he agreed that might bother some of them. Then he added, "It also might be because you are a lot better pilot than they are or will ever be." Did he really think that? Well, I know I'm pretty good even if I haven't had much chance to compare myself with many others.
.... There is more of this story ...