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In the Spirit of Flight

By David Pambianchi

One of our first wonders is flight. If your memory fails, watch a child in fascination observe a pigeon or butterfly take to the air, a seemingly unachievable miracle experienced only in our imagination. Yet through our imagination, determination and intellect, we follow, off the ground, into the clouds, and beyond.

Powerful and free, we know how Icarus felt whenever we watch an eagle soar. Our psyche fills with desire, creates fairytale dragons and mythical unicorns. We manipulate natural resources to build and transform our thoughts into form and action. (That’s your real Da Vinci code.) We fold paper planes, whirly-twirlers, piece together flying, floating objects of all experimental shapes and sizes. In essence, from rubber band powered propellers to jet engines, we strive to transport ourselves from here, to up there. We too can fly.

I began flying lessons by renting a Cessna 172R flight trainer from The Academy of Aviation at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York. Along with anticipation for the new and adventurous comes a lot to absorb: Theory, ground inspection, instruments, radio, navigation and more. Pre-takeoff check, taxi, then a rush of speed, sound and power, vibration, forward and then upward, you’re on your way.
Before you try your own hands and feet at the controls, your instructor may show you a thing or two that makes your stomach want to jump through your mouth. But hang in there. The steady, fresh breezes of an open window helps stave off motion sickness. The view remains solemn and clear.  

Inlets like bath tubs hold sailboats and fishing trawlers. Long Island’s beaches stretch surreal into the distance with sunbathers no larger than ants, waves break forming rows of white lines on green shades of ocean, and all the while I keep a conscious eye for other aircraft and landmarks. I watch a large seagull, wings spread, sailing along below me and feel admiration, a sense of accomplishment and a bit less envious. With Life below and Spirit up here, the two blend and I remember. On a section of fields below, I recall my father and me fruit picking, filling baskets with ripe strawberries, where I now bring my own son Jayson to pick pumpkins.

Hawks ride the thermals (rising air currents). They land with relative ease despite turbulences. But the plane heaves, bumps and rumbles about. While handling the aircraft in choppy, difficult situations, instructor Robert Deinhardt emphasizes, “Do whatever you have to do, whatever it takes to make it work. Make the plane do, what you want.” A good life-lesson reminder to keep focused and determined during tough times and uncertainty.

What a motorcycle is to a car, a helicopter is to a plane. Helicopter Captain Chez Fogel (full time pilot for Talon Air), knows that “more glass means becoming more part of the picture than just a viewer.” Harder to handle and more expensive to rent, I still found taking lessons in a Robinson R22 worthwhile. With slower speed and greater mobility, you can hover, dream-like to explore at length and leisure. Up close to ponder, clouds wisp about you as you pass through. Land on an ice-blue glacier or circle the crater of a volcano.

The lure is strong. We tie ourselves to kites and parachutes, or skydive for a few moments and experience the drop of a falcon in the hunt. Balloons offer a taste of reckless abandon, the future and direction left to the winds of chance. We let go, swoop down, trust our comrades in the control tower and fellow pilots the way a trapeze flyer expects the clasp of his partner’s hands. We float, hurry along or glide silent as an owl.

While the limitless voyage of our minds helps take us from the earth to the sky and beyond, the singular joy of sheer natural flying remains in the realm of birds, a realm we sometimes share In the Spirit of Flight.

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