God, I love flying.
I love the freedom of soaring through the sky in a small plane: the power of the machine, vibrant and alive dancing on the wind.
I love that I am a pilot. A woman. And a pilot. A woman who can slap a float plane into submission, make it heel, even as the wind tugs and begs like a spoiled child.
It is in my blood this love of flying machines, passed from my father, but not from his – an Irish immigrant who thought planes the devil’s work.
I have already introduced my son to this love and it is my hope that he not take it for granted as I did in my youth
Flying was just something that my Dad did. As a teenager I flew with him only occasionally, indulging him, really. He would offer me the chance to try my hand at guiding the machine he revered, but I wasn’t interested. More interesting was the cache my Dad’s plane lent me with my friends and boyfriends. His lot was to show up at afternoon barbecues and take my friends flying. And afterwards I would kiss him brightly on the cheek and wave him off into the sunset.
My twenties were hard. I fell apart. I put myself back together. In the process I realized that learning to fly was inevitable
Few people without a pilot’s license truly appreciate how much work it takes to get your wings. Dad and I spent countless nights at the kitchen table studying air law, poring over maps, plotting practice journeys and calculating ground speed, weight and balance and fuel burn.
He was at the airport when I did my first solo flight. He praised my “decision-making” when I had to overshoot the runway on my first approach. He didn’t mention how the plane bounced three times when I finally landed it. A few months later when I failed to find the Burlington Airport during my first cross-country flight he confided he suspected the “bugger was hiding” on me.
After I became licensed on wheels I began my training on floats in earnest. Float flying was my Dad’s forte and it was a whole new, very difficult, ball game. Hour after hour, weekend after weekend, for months on end we did endless circuits.
At times the frustration was unbearable. I wanted to scream when once again upon landing Dad had to take the controls to prevent a stall 10 feet off the water.
And Dad did scream - more than once. “Power!” he would yell when I settled into a landing attitude too high above a glassy surface. “Rotate!” was the cry when I appeared to be heading into the water nose first.
He had to yell, I should explain. He always waited until the very last second to give me the opportunity to do everything myself, but any Dad who is willing to let his daughter get him get that close to a watery grave, needs to know that the necessary command to arrest the situation will be heard loud and clear.
Dad always felt bad about yelling anyway, especially after we were safely down and I assured him that I had been just about to add power or rotate, as the case may have been.
"I probably should have given you more time,” he would say. "I’m not a very good teacher."
But that’s where he was wrong. Dad taught me so much.
His unending confidence that the girl who nearly failed grade ten mathematics could master the physics of navigation taught me that nothing was out of my grasp.
His insistence on mastery through repetition taught me to slow down and discover patience that I never knew I had.
His ability to spot a moose at 500 feet taught me to never stop taking time to marvel at the world around me.
The older I get, the more I realize that some of the most poignant moments of my life have been spent crammed in the front seat of an airplane with my father. There are certain things that are easier to say while you’re navigating the winds, far above the minutiae of the world below. There are certain things that can be left unsaid, yet still somehow understood.
Flying, my Dad taught me, is like life.
It’s about striking a balance between freedom and caution. It’s about learning how to temper exhilaration with patience. It’s about hard work, discipline, thoughtfulness and respect. And it’s about those moments when you think your heart will burst from the sheer beauty and the wonder of what you see around you.
Thank you Dad, for teaching me how to fly.