I walked across the asphalt and stood looking up the enormous flight of stairs. I lurched over each step as the bottom of my suitcase thwacked up against each one. I entered this cylindrical pterodactyl with tremendous uncertainty of what to expect. A lady greeted me and pointed to my seat directly behind me and asked that I wait there for a bit. I plopped and looked up above, then down where my forearm was laying on the armrest. A tiny placard read: Seat 1A.
I peered out the window, my big green eyes blinking into the morning sky, where I could see my dad standing on the tarmac waving at me. My smile beamed with comfort as this would be the first time ever in my life away from him. Then an imposing, sharply dressed man in dark slacks, a crisp white button-up shirt and tie was standing before me and said, “Hi, I’m the Captain, you can come with me and sit in the cabin with the crew.” I gave one last glance through the window at my dad then followed the man. I stepped into this cavernous wonderland as I caught my breath and my eyes widened with amazement.
All of gadgets, gauges, levers, buttons, side by side yolks (an airplane’s “steering wheel”) and lots of windows that curved around both sides made this the most amazing place I had ever been in the whole world. The man said I could have a seat in this large comfortable chair while they had some work to do but would explain each step as they were talking.
I was 6 years old and in the jump seat of a United Airlines Boeing 727 cockpit.
Soon, I was led back to my seat before take off. A beautiful woman approached me with concerned, yet soft eyes and a smile to make anyone relax. She said, “Hi Mike, I’m Gloria and we are glad you are here to Fly the Friendly Skies with us today.” I thought to myself that I so hoped she would also be my next babysitter!
She made sure my seatbelt was fastened snuggly and were on the taxiing for the runway. My first time on an airplane and I was by myself. The plane powered up, my heart was pounding out against my chest and my wee little fingers had a death grip on the armrests. My eyes were glued out the window as I saw the ground and buildings zipping by faster and faster. More power, faster and faster, as I was thrust back into my seat. The front of the plane began to lift then I felt completely weightless. I was floating in the air like a spaceman! I would reflect back with excited tears of that moment 44 years later.
The trees and cars became smaller and smaller. I peered back down as hard as I could, hoping to see my Dad but was unable to. I looked back and saw the stewardess ( it’s the 1970’s folks) staring at me with a smile. She winked and said, “Isn’t this fun, Mike?!” I nodded my head with approval and finally a smile burst across my face. I was flying from Sacramento to Reno to meet my aunt and uncle. A lifelong love of flying was born within me that day. And of the sensation of speed which would reveal itself a few years later.
1976, I was with my dad again on a beautiful Spring afternoon standing on the airport tarmac. He triple checked to make sure I was fastened securely. Several buckles, around my arms and up and under my groin around to my back. This time I would be getting on an airplane with different luggage.
A parachute pack.
He went through all of the preflight check with me on exiting the plane safely at what would likely be over 100 miles an hour. To make sure I was clear of the airplane before pulling the ripcord. No, I was not going skydiving. Instead, my dad was taking me on one of his aerobatic practice flights for my first time. The parachute was in case there was fatal, unrecoverable failure with the airplane. That apprehensive little boy six years prior was now a flying addict. My dad had become a private pilot and taught me how to fly.
The power of a Cessna 152 Aerobat is dwarfed in power comparison to a Boeing 727 with a cruising speed of 120 miles per hour compared to 570 mph. There were only 315 of the little planes made but they were especially designed to handle numerous aerobatic maneuvers including: aileron rolls, lazy eights, loops, steep turns, Immelmann turns, spins, snap rolls, chandelles, vertical reversements, barrel rolls and stalls. Not a stall with the engine actually stopping. Though he did teach me what do a couple of times with a complete power shut off. And let me tell you…that is one heckuv a pray to the heavens moment. The entire experience of those years was so much fun.
It would be 18 years later in 1994, with a few commercial flights here and there since those days of flying with my dad that I would meet the girl that I would marry. She worked for the airlines and I would end up flying virtually every other weekend for next few years. Many short trips that could be done in 2-3 days roundtrip. There were longer trips to Mexico, Canada and Hawaii. A couple of trips just for fun across country and right back in one day. Just for the sake of doing it.
Because I wanted to fly whenever I could.
The airports were so easy to navigate through and I never gave a thought second thought to any fears. Flying was in my blood. I was raised with it.
Then two life events occurred with my life that would change that course. The first was at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. As the months and years started to go on after that day I became more insecure and unsure of flying and I would not get on another plane. The second being that my own inner life anxiety increased and worsened even affecting my social life. That was remedied the last week of July 2003 when I brought home a savior into my life. My Golden Retriever, Phoenix. It soon became obvious to me that I would never leave him though I never openly admitted that to anyone. On August 25th of this year, 2014, I would no longer have the latter as an excuse.
The last week of September my best friend, the one who has always been there for me my entire life…my aunt…called me one night. She, a continual world traveler, said to me, “Hey honey, how about you and I go on a quick trip in October? As in, on an airplane.”
To be continued…