On Scary Plane Rides

Some time ago, I think 1992, I got my single engine land pilot’s license. This was the end of a many-year goal to fly planes… It began as a fascination as a little kid: seeing planes at airshows was the start. There was this really cool place nearby home called the Danbury Airport… It was right next to the Danbury Fair grounds in Connecticut. Those fairgrounds are now a condominium lot and a mall:  No fair any more. I was really sad to learn that. I got lost at that fair on a school field trip, and made it alone and terrified back to the foot of the huge Paul Bunyan statue as the rally point. I was found, but I digress.

That airport used to bring the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels to town every summer. That and the ocassional Waco, Stearman, or some other set of biplanes always blew me away. Back in those days it was ok for the Angels to light them up: full afterburners and a thundering sonic boom would rip across the crowd. You could see it. There was a shockwave of air and sound rolling over the crowd of people, and then it would hit you and BOOM! I loved it. I loved the smell of av-gas, Jet-A, 100 Low Lead, yeah – perfume.

Years would go by. Enter the world of small home computers like the C-64. I got one with a green screen and a 5.25″ floppy drive. Heaven! There was a software called Flight Simulator Pro. I bought it, played it to death. In fact I made sure to land at every single airport that the software had. It was the entire east coast of the USA! Miles of flying and no real logbook.

Some time in 1987 I took my first ride. I had since lived around the planet, and ended up in Amherst, Massachusetts. The small Northampton, MA field had instruction. $20 for a one hour first flight. I was hooked. They used these wonderful little low-wing beasts called Piper Tomahawks (which we later learned should NOT be spinned! HA!). Jan-Eric Hallenious (sorry Jan-Eric, for spelling you name wrong) was my first instructor, a gent from Sweden who was collecting flight hours in the USA before heading back home to Sweden to get into the airlines. He was wonderful: mid 20s, very clear,accurate and concise. He knew how to fly and how to teach it, and I never understood a word he said! I soloed in that beast and decided that was a great direction to take my life: aviation. Well you know that is not where I am now, so obviously it didn’t take that path. That’s ok- I later learned to fly 152s, 172s, Archers, Mooneys, gliders, aerobats (Cap-10), and other larger and scarier beasts of the air.

All this time, another  childhood passion started to give me the fever: astronomy. Well, there you are! One life after another. Every now and then I find my archive box of John-history, open it and find the log books. I page through them with a smile as I remember writing entries of near-death activities in RED, the times I flew in weather worse than my personal limit could manage, the friends and co-pilots I had on various journeys from the expensive remote hamburger lunch to check rides with larger-than-life pilots who really pushed me to my limits. I suppose the most frightening ride has been life! The excitement of it all has been the real push: I never know I am frightened until well past the point of success or failure, and that is a real bonus. Oh yeah – and jumping out of planes? GREAT fun!

About johnb

- Director of Grainger Observatory, Phillips Exeter Academy. - Variable-star-crazed astronomer, but have done research in other areas. - Drummer, archer, pilot, chef, friend, pet owner, husband, father, Train-nut.
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