By CALEB MUNDT
When I took my first flight lesson over four years ago, I remember feeling a wonder at the miracle of flight. There is nothing quite like the feeling of an airplane finally reaching rotation speed and breaking contact with the ground.
Over time, though, it can be easy for such experiences to become commonplace as we gain experience.
I recently had an experience that caused me to consider how I regard flying, bringing back the marvel of flight once again.
An elementary school teacher by trade, my job has provided me with some pretty unique opportunities.
A few months ago, I learned that my school traditionally does an end-of-the-year celebration which is a sort of carnival/field day conglomeration. A part of this event is a raffle of items that teachers can donate. Some offer special lunches, hairdos for a week, and other similar donations.
Some of my colleagues found out that I am a pilot and asked if I would offer a scenic flight around the town to be raffled off. I, of course, was excited to do this and said yes immediately.
At the event, one of our fourth graders won the raffle and we agreed to meet at the local airport the next weekend.
The day of the flight finally came, and the fourth grader, Bella, and her family met me at the West Bend Municipal Airport (KETB) in West Bend, Wisconsin.
I had rented the 1980 Cessna 172 and flown it in from Madison. Her entire family and our school principal were waiting on the ramp when I taxied in.
She and I were equally excited for the flight. As we did a walk-around preflight, I explained what we were looking for and how the flight controls worked.
With the preflight completed, she and I and her dad got situated in the plane, and completed the startup. We taxied out to the active runway, where we completed our run-up, and then departed.
As soon as we lifted off, I looked over and saw a huge smile on her face. I don’t think she stopped smiling for the entirety of our flight.
As we settled in at a cruise altitude, I asked if she would like to fly for a few minutes. She nodded enthusiastically, and after a quick review of flight controls, she took control and flew us out towards Lake Michigan, staying north of the Milwaukee Class C airspace.
She flew with a natural touch, not over-controlling, but smoothly applying inputs, feeling out how much pressure was needed to induce a change in course or attitude.
I enjoyed watching the look of excitement on her face as she felt the airplane responding to her movements. We circled around and then returned to the airport, where I picked up my second set of passengers, a 5-year-old and her sister and grandpa.
The kids and dad of a teacher friend, I had offered them a flight as well while I was in the area, knowing that the 5-year-old was secure in her desire to be a pilot when she grew up. She shouted in excitement as we lifted off, and was thrilled when we were able to pick out her house on the ground.
I was struck with several thoughts as I watched these kids fly. They were experiencing flight as it was meant to be experienced. There was an excitement — and even a wonder — that I could see on each face as we gently banked the airplane back and forth, choosing a course around town.
I think all pilots have had this feeling of wonder and joy at one time or another when they first started flying. It was a thrill — or, at the very least, an adrenaline rush — the first time the wheels left the ground, and the first time I landed the plane by myself.
But is it possible that with experience can come complacency? We get used to the thrill of flying, and lose ourselves in the technical things that we are trying to improve, or following our flight plan, or any number of other items on any given flight.
These are all important things, and we should certainly focus on improving ourselves as pilots on every flight. However, if we don’t take time to marvel at the miracle of flight, we are missing the point.
I’ve been flying for several years now, and I like to think that I have made it a point to be motivated to improve myself as a pilot, but it took an 11-year-old and a 5-year-old who were flying for the very first time to remind me of why I began flying in the first place.
That’s a reminder that I think we can all use.
A final thought occured to me as I flew the airplane back to its home base after our afternoon of flight: I wonder if Orville Wright had the same look on his face during that very first powered flight that my young copilots did during our flight? I’d like to think so.