I ran across my old flying logbook the other day. It was where I recorded all the time I spent flying airplanes. At the end of my last entry was the total time – 362 hours.
Not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, less than an hour a day for a single year. I’ve spent more time than that mowing the lawn. I’ve probably spent that many hours cleaning the gutters.
But flying is, hands down, the most concentrated, all-out fun I have ever had. Every minute from pre-flight checks to final approach was delirious, delicious, delectable fun.
I did my flying during the 1980s. It began when I worked for an outfit that had a company plane and a licensed flight instructor who sat at the desk next to mine. Everyone who worked for the firm was expected to become a pilot.
My flight instructor, who remains my best friend, was patient but unforgiving when it came to the rules of flight.
“Take-offs are optional,” he would say. “Landings are mandatory.” He insisted I check everything carefully, and then check it again. When he thought I was sloppy, he would make me recite every step of the pre-flight routine out loud.
“There are old pilots and bold pilots,” he wound chant. “But, there are no old, bold pilots.”
In spite of his perfection as an instructor, my performance as a student had a few wrinkles. I had to go around three times before landing on my first solo flight. It was supposed to be a quick circle around the field and then back to the ground. But my first three shots at it just didn’t feel right. Like he said, landings are mandatory, and I wanted to get it right. He told me afterward he now knew what having a heart attack felt like.
I also landed on the wrong runway during my first cross-country flight to a neighboring airport in Illinois. The man in the tower was sympathetic.
“First cross-country?” he asked with just a slight hint of acid as I touched down.
I flew for fun and for business. Even with minimum hours, I managed to accumulate a few flying adventures. I got caught above the clouds when a fast-moving front roared in. A sympathetic air traffic controller talked me down. A brand new airplane lost all avionics half way to Dayton during a night flight, and the tower had to pick me out of the crowd so I could land.
I don’t fly anymore. It’s too expensive, and I’m probably too old. But my logbook reminded me for a brief exhilarating moment of a time when none of that mattered.