Taking flight and catching up with an old friend

Published 7:29 am Wednesday, June 30, 2021

I became reacquainted with an old hobby an and old friend last weekend. Let me tell you about it.

I’ve always had a fear of heights.  Had I been born to stand 6’5” or more, I think I would have spent my days stooping.  I’ve never liked balconies, and I’ve never liked the tops of buildings.

But I do like the views from up top. Go figure.

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What do you do when you have that odd dichotomy in your life?  Early 1990s I decided to conquer my fear of heights by taking flying lessons.  Off to the airport I went.

I flew, I soloed, and I did everything but get a private pilot license. And I enjoyed every minute of it. Learning to fly means learning a lot of things—how the airplane works, how to take off, how to land, how to deal with tower operators, how to navigate—and it also meant that you got to rise several thousand feet in the air and take a look around.  It was terrific.

Then flying got expensive—you have to fly a lot to keep your license up; more importantly, you have to fly a lot to stay safe in the air—and life in general got in the way, so I decided to take a short hiatus. That short hiatus lingered for about 18 years. 

Fast forward to about two weeks ago.  I have a friend with whom I’d sort of lost contact. He had become not only a pilot, but a flight instructor, and after we ran into each other,  he offered to take me and a mutual friend flying. I jumped at the chance.

My friend flew from north Atlanta and picked us up at the LaGrange airport.  I hadn’t been in that airport in quite a while. It’s a nice airport.  West Point Pepperell used to keep their corporate jet there.

After adding some oil to the engine and completing his checklist, we squeezed ourselves into the small Cessna and began taxiing down the runway. Flying in a small airplane is the oddest combination of things.  When you are taking off, you feel like you are going much faster than you are. When you get airborne, you feel like you are going much slower than you are.

Our destination was the Peach State Aeorodrome in Williamson, Georgia.  The whole place is modeled after Candler Field, the original Atlanta airport, and it has become a gathering place for pilots.

The landing strip was not only grass, but the grass was on an upward-sloping hill. And it was a steep slope.  We flew in with tall pine trees close on both sides, found a friendly grassy spot to set down on, landed, and taxied uphill.  I’d never taxied uphill before.

Part of the lore of flying is the hundred-dollar hamburger.  Pilots have to have some reason to fly, so small airports compete for business by having restaurants.   Because of the cost of flying the, the joke is that the hamburgers cost about a hundred bucks.

This airport had a phenomenal place called the Barnstormer’s Grill.  I expected some hole-in-the wall hamburger joint. Nope.  The place had an almost Disney quality to it.  Scattered along the walls were black-and-white pictures of the old Candler Field in Atlanta, old airplanes, old airports, men in suits, women in dresses, all reminiscent of a time when we dressed up to travel.  An event center off to the side held a complete red airplane.

The food was terrific.  And my friends and I got to visit, catch up on our lives, and talk flying.

As we left I realize that we were going to be taking off downhill, then flying out through those high pines. We’d watched airplanes take off while we ate, and it looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie—the plane sped down the runway, fell out of sight  as it dropped beneath the crown of the hill, and then came back into view and rose after a heartbeat-long pause, winging its way between those pines, then above the canopy, and then out of sight.

Too soon it was over; too soon we flew back; and too soon I was on my way home.

But I’d seen my old friends again.  What is the saying:  the one thing you can’t make any more of is old friends. 

And I’d gotten to fly.

I hope I get to do all of that again soon.