Mist.

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So I just called the flight service on my own for the first time to get a weather outlook for tomorrow afternoon. The club plane will be back from its maintenance and it’s time to get back in the air, except Mother Nature is not going to be cooperating.

Right now they are predicting light freezing drizzle, snow and overcast with 1200′ ceiling, not exactly good conditions for piloting a small plane, let alone a student piloting a small plane.

Looks like I’ll be watching more videos of other people flying in nicer weather. I wonder if I can telecommute from somewhere balmy or something.

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Focus.

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It’s one of those days where Monday is flying by simply because of the pace at work. After being off on Friday I had a bunch of emails to contend with, a few snags with one of the applications at work (ID10T errors are the worst) and a bunch of meetings on my calendar. It could all be overwhelming but honestly it’s not.

I’m trying really hard to stay focused. And more importantly, I’m succeeding.

During a short break this morning I watched a couple of videos on YouTube. I watch videos while riding the exercise bike because otherwise I’d be bored out of my mind. This morning my videos of choice were of student pilots going on their first solo flight; they captured the experience on video. It’s something that I plan on doing as well. Watching each of these student pilots go through their checklists and through the same actions on their first solo flight was inspiring to me. Their focus is contagious for me and as Earl remarked during our chat, when it comes to my becoming a pilot, he hasn’t seen me this excited about something in a very long time.

The focus required for being a pilot is starting to creep into other parts of my life, and frankly, it’s a great feeling. It’s amazing what one can do when it’s passion behind whatever they’re focusing on. I’m passionate about work and all that I believe in. And I definitely believe I can fly.

Image courtesy of this random website.

Inspiration.

So I’m still flying high (no pun intended) two days after my orientation flight as a student pilot. I have already scheduled my next lesson and I am really looking forward to that (I’m counting the days). I started the self-paced ground school instruction yesterday. It’s amazing what one can do with today’s technology. Imagine where we’ll be in a decade.

For the past couple of nights I’ve woken up in the middle of the night simply from being energized with the idea of becoming a pilot again. This gave me an opportunity to think a little bit while I was trying to get back to sleep.

Out of all the folks that shared the excitement about me pursuing pilot lessons, only one person asked me why I was pursuing this now, at this point in my life. After all, learning to fly in Central New York during the winter months is a challenge all of its own, but there’s never really a wrong time to learn to fly, I guess you just know when it’s time. And for me, it’s definitely time. There are a few things that have inspired me recently.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that during a Delta flight home from Minneapolis we had to do a couple of go-arounds to land due to the windy conditions at the airport. While I had a few moments of nervousness (looking back, I think that was because I didn’t know firsthand what was going on), for the most part I was really intrigued as to how the pilots were handling the plane. While others were nervous, I was more excited because while I didn’t want to be landing that plane in those conditions at that time, I really wanted to be in control of the plane and handling the challenges associated with being pilot. I have no dreams of flying an airliner, but I certainly want to fly for fun and bring friends and family along with me.

When Earl and I went to Oshkosh, Wisconsin earlier this year for their annual EAA AirVenture, I was thrilled beyond belief. On the night of our arrival, when I saw the small planes flying in and out of the airfield, making it obvious that the pilots were having a grand ol’ time, I realized that I really missed that sort of experience. I had only flown once in a small plane since I had flown with my Dad and I missed it very, very much. It’s something that I love to do and I can’t describe the giddiness I feel when I’m in a small plane. I really feel like I’m in a different world and it’s a really good feeling, even behind the controls of the plane on Saturday. It’s a freakin’ amazing feeling. Oshkosh is definitely on the bucket list.

Recently I saw a video of Jeb Corliss, a BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot, who hit some rocks during one of his amazing wingsuit flights. He nearly died. Jeb talked about his accident and the subsequent recovery, and if that guy can fly a wingsuit, crash, recover and get back into the wingsuit, I can certainly learn how to fly a Piper Cherokee. Life is about choices and my choice is to learn to do what I already know I love to do. There’s no reason to wait, there’s no excuse. Honestly, a long time ago I thought that a gay boy could never be man enough to fly. I have since learned that long ago I was a foolish lad.

But I think what really prompted me to contact the flying club and get started on my pilot lessons was coming across this photo:

That’s me, the short one in the front of the group of guys, with the striped shirt. We are all standing in front of a Cessna 150 that had been used to teach all but one of the older gentlemen to fly that day (the one in the yellow shirt is the Flight Instructor). The thing about that photo is that while I didn’t have a lesson that day (nowhere near old enough), I had sat behind the controls of the 150 and I had my hands on the stick for take-off, landing and during flight. While my feet weren’t on the rudder pedals, the instructor handled that, I had the illusion of flying the plane. I remember pulling too hard on the stick and the stall warning alarm sounding in the cockpit. It scared me but the Flight Instructor calmly said, “you might want to ease up on that a bit”. He was in control the whole time, but why would a 12 year old be “flying” a plane? Simple. We wanted to go for a ride and the flight instructor was more comfortable in the co-pilots’ seat. Despite the stall warning, I remember being so excited about my chance to really be the pilot of plane someday and I knew it was something that I wanted to do. Actually, it was something that I had to do.

I gazed at the photo for a long time and wondered: 33 years later, what am I waiting for? I couldn’t come up with an answer. While Earl won’t let me ride a motorcycle, he is fully supportive of me flying a plane.

I have spent many nights “relaxing” in front of a computer screen doing a modified version of what I do during the day for a career. I love what I do at work, but for the betterment of everyone involved, I need to disengage from work-like activities in the interest of recreation and relaxation. This, coupled with my love and need to fly, makes my pilot lessons a no-brainer.

I just can’t wait any longer. This lad needs to fly.

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Flight.

This may come as a surprise to some but I am excited beyond belief to type this next sentence:

I had my first student pilot lesson today!

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Technically it was my introductory lesson, but after take off of the VERY long runway at Griffiss International Airport in the Piper Cherokee 140, my flight instructor said to me, “Congratulations, you are flying!” And indeed I was, in the pilots’ seat, behind the controls of the Cherokee. My hand was on the throttle, my other hand on the yoke, my feet on the rudder pedals and my eyes on the horizon.

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(Taken after we landed).

Starting as a young kid I flew in small planes with my dad and my grandfather and friends of the family over the years and I have always enjoyed every moment of those experiences, even the times I flew with my grandfather (he was a little jerky with his movements in the cockpit in comparison to riding with my dad). While I sat in the pilot seat of a Cessna 150 a few times, my experience has always been as a passenger in the co-pilot seat. Dad said “here, take the stick” quite a few times and I would do just that, but takeoff and landing was always handled by the pilot. Today, I took off and landed and flew around with a whole bunch of instruction from the flight instructor.

I. Loved. Every. Moment. Of. It.

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My experience in small planes was always at small airstrips which most of the time amounted to a mowed down section of a hay field, so as we were coming in for a landing at Griffiss, I said to myself, “holy shit that’s a long runway” (Griffiss’ runway clocks in at 11,820 feet). We landed long so we wouldn’t have to taxi forever to get back to the hanger. Wow, that runway is huge.

After talking about the requirements to get my private pilot certification, we went out to the plane and went through the pre-flight checklist and the like. I made a bunch of mental notes and then we went flying. We spent a little less than an hour in the air in the “student practice area” west of the airport. Learning to use visual navigational aids, I did what I thought was a nice turn at 3200′ around the hotel tower at Turning Stone Casino. Just to get a feel for the controls, on the way there I did some turns between the airport and Sylvan Beach on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake. After a few more maneuvers, we headed back to Griffiss and landed on that really long runway. After the plane was fueled and put away in its hanger, we went back to the aviation club room where I met some of the other club members and hung out with the guys for a bit. It was very reminiscent of hanging with the pilots in the picnic area at the airport near my Dad’s house on a Sunday afternoon.

The only thing missing from this experience today was being able to call up Dad and tell him that I became a student pilot today. After sharing the experience with Earl, I called my Mom and told her the news. She could tell by the excitement in my voice that I was very excited about the whole experience and that I was really looking forward to this new adventure in my life.

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I am so happy that I took this first step and I am really looking forward to my next lesson. I kept saying, “THAT was awesome!”. I have to admit that I was nervous when we first took off but after a few moments I started calming down and I was starting to feel the beginnings of confidence. The instructor kept saying how much he loved to fly and I couldn’t agree with him more. Looking out over the snowy landscape, with Oneida Lake off in the distance and me actually in the pilots’ seat was like a dream come true.

It’s in my blood. I can’t help it. I love to fly. And that’s what I’m going to do.