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I had a dream the other night that I was flying. Not crammed into the fuselage of some horrible commercial airliner, but just flying without the benefit of machinery of any kind. I used to frequently dream that I was flying when I was a child but I have not had dreams of that kind since I became an adult. It was nice to dream that I was soaring like an eagle above the treetops again.
There is something about flying. My Uncle was a pilot in WWII and a West Point career officer, and he would say, without a moment's hesitation, that flying was everything and everything was flying and no experience could rival it. During the war he was secretly shipped back from Europe to be in on the maiden test flight of the very first jet fighter designed in this country and it was the most exciting experience of his life. Until he got to fly one himself, of course.
Taking a ride on an F15 is one of the items on my personal bucket list, even though I am absolutely certain that within seconds of take off I would be throwing up everything I had eaten for the previous year. It has to be an adrenalin rush of astronomic proportions. I would also like to hitch a ride on a WWII P51 Mustang, the guardian of the magnificent B52 flying fortresses in Europe, or the F4U Corsair, which watched over the Navy ships in the Pacific. I wouldn't mind a ride on a British Spitfire or Tempest. Heck, I'd enjoy a little spin in a WWI biplane if I could get it. During WWII my father, who was a young man with a way with an airplane engine, worked on the private WWI biplane of an Army Major who trusted only him with his flying darling. The grateful Major wanted to show his thanks by giving my father a ride. He told me that it was an experience that more totally combined equal quantities of awe, exhilaration, and heart-pounding terror than anything he had done before or since. The Major, who used the occasion to show off his piloting skills, executed plenty of horrifying stunts like loops, turns, and dive bombs. I used to love to hear my father describe his wild ride.
When they show films from the cockpit of a fighter plane it seems almost impossible that anyone could actually possess the skills to fly one of those things. I know I wouldn't. Aside from the throwing up thing, I don't think I have the multi-tasking skills necessary for the job. I can't honestly see myself trying to fly a vehicle going Mach 2.5 (two and a half times faster than the speed of sound) while simultaneously watching my various instruments, handling the stick, keeping an eye on the radar, paying attention to the radio, looking around to try and get a visual on the enemy, arming and locking my weapons on target, and trying to resist the G forces that would feel as if I had an elephant sitting on my lap.
But, oh, it must be grand, soaring through the skies like a great silver bird with all that power at your fingertips, rocketing over the earth with abandon, turning and looping, climbing and diving, free from gravity, up among the clouds and the blue, blue sky with the sun sparkling off your wings. I have imagined how it would be, but I know that my imagination falls far short of the reality. I have played video games that are like flight simulators, but how can you even begin to know what it is like when you remain tied to the earth, sitting on your sofa with the sky outside your window? I think that there must be something a little bit divine about flying. There are so many pilots, from the Red Baron to Amelia Earhart to Chuck Yeager, who have wanted to do nothing else in life. A pilot once told me that when he flew, he and his plane became one entity, and his physical self, with all it's limitations and restrictions, disappeared when he was in the sky. He said that when he took off from the ground and climbed into the stratosphere everything fell away from him and the only thing that mattered was the moment that he broke through the clouds and sailed through the endless blue. I doubt that I will ever experience that feeling, but I can imagine it, and long for it, and dream of it. Have you ever dreamt that you could fly? I have, and it is thrilling and joyful and free. And the best part of all is that I never, ever throw up in my dreams.
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