Sunday, November 25, 2007

Learning to fly

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

And, just like he had always been, Dad was there.

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.

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Dayna said...

That my friend was an amazing post. Beutiful concise writing and this reader feels like she took a journey with you. Maybe you should consider sumbitting that to a pilots magazine.

Shauna said...

What a wonderful story Kelly! And how impressed am I that you are a pilot? :)

Tania said...

...and I thought it was stressful having my mom teach me to drive!

Anonymous said...

My husband, the pilot, would whole heartedly agree that flying is like life. It is. Michael, the hubs, is a CFI and I look forward to getting my private license some day, so that I too, can soar in the sky!

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you will come by again, as I will come back here soon!

Family Adventure said...

Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog. I thought I'd return the favour, and was absolutely enraptured by this post. Your writing is wonderful - and your father sounds like a fantastic man.

My husband is also toying with the idea of getting his license (at Buttonville, incidentally - fairly close to you, no?), when we return to Canada in the spring. I should ask him to read this post first :)

I'll be back. Nice to 'meet' you.


Kelly said...

You are my hero! I am much to chicken to even THINK about flying a plane!

crazymumma said...

What a gift he gave you.

And. You look like Jennifer Connolly. scuse me while I seeth with jealousy.

and you can fly.

thats cool.

b*babbler said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father!

(And that is so very cool that you have a pilot's license! Wow. Just, wow! I'm speechless!)

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

This is incredible writing. Wow. I feel like I have been allowed a glipse at a beautiful, intricate relationship. Between your father and you and the sky.
Thank you for taking us along.

Gabriella said...

I love this post. Maybe one day you can try to convince me not to be petrified of flying.

Beck said...

I am terrifying of flying - but this made me feel like rushing out and signing up for flying lessons, so beautifully did you write about it.

Kellan said...

Wow - this was a great post and I am so impressed. So few people, really, learn how to fly and get to know it and love it - right? I'm a little afraid of flying, myself, but I wish I wasn't and I appreciate that you were given this gift and opportunity - Wow! BTW, I'm Kellan - nice to meet you. Kellan

Badness Jones said...

Your love for your papa shines through your love for flying....I think they're probably intertwined.

btw: I think you, and your new blog design, look great!

Amy said...

Such a beautiful post. I love how this post about flying becomes a tribute to your father. Wonderfully done.

Damselfly said...

That is very, very cool that your dad taught his (teenage?) daughter to fly.

I really hate flying.

But your post was great!

Whitenoise said...

Very nicely put.

Most fathers wouldn't have the patience. My dad has a couple little airplanes but despite the fact that I'm an airline captain with over 12,000 hours, I don't get to fly 'em. -His babies and he's waaay to fussy about keeping things shiny.

Danielle said...

Very impressive and so nicely written.

It's so beautiful that you have that to share with your dad.

Gail at Large said...

What a great post! I love flying, too, although I'm not licensed yet. I went through ground school at Brampton last year, eventually passed my aviation medical (I developed a heart murmur when my husband was sick, so it was a bit of a process to pass), and then had to make some tough decisions about the cost of training. In the end I put travel first, photography second, and aviation third. But I still fly a lot as a passenger: this year so far I've taken 17 commercial flights (in Norway, Germany, USA, and Canada), flew in a Dakota DC-3, Beech 18 Expeditor, a 1925 New Standard biplane, a Piper Super Cub, and tomorrow afternoon I'm going up in the biplane again. And the year's not over yet!

I look forward to reading more of your flying stories. (I have a flying category in my website, on the sidebar.)