She was a friend of a friend, slowly becoming more. The night before we had walked on a beach, stared at the moon, listened to the surf, and spoken of the power of shared moments. The next night, this night, I was taking her flying.
The weather couldn’t be better. Not a cloud in the sky, the visibility more than 70 miles. She watched me intently as I methodically preflighted the airplane on the ramp at Boeing Field, asking questions now and then, patient as ever.
I wondered what she was thinking, whether she knew preflight inspections didn’t ordinarily take this long. I wondered if she knew how anxious I was, if she could see my heart pounding, my thoughts racing.
We climbed into the plane, a little Cessna 152, and I reviewed the sectional chart, making sure I knew where the controlled airspace was, pointing out where we would go on this short sunset flight over Seattle. While reaching for a pen from my bag, I knocked the chart out onto the pavement.
“And now,” I said, trying to cover up my nervousness, “I will exit the aircraft, and retrieve the fallen chart.” She laughed.
Back inside, I briefed her on the use of the seatbelts, pointed out the air vents, explained how she could help me look for traffic, and told her how to open the door.
“A lot of pilots don’t use checklists,” I said. “But it’s been a while since I’ve flown, and I don’t want to take any chances leaving things to memory.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” she said.
I handed her some earplugs, and began flicking switches and turning knobs, listening to the radio.
“Clear!” I started the engine.
We received a clearance to taxi, and after a short runup, the tower gave us permission to fly. I carefully lined the plane up with the runway centerline, and smoothly advanced the throttle. Within seconds, we were airborne.
“I can’t believe how fast we got into the air!” she shouted.
“It’s the wind!” I yelled back.
“Cessna 49838, right turn to the northeast approved,” blared the radio.
“Roger, 838,” I replied.
Slowly, the planet came into view. Ahead, downtown Seattle, and beyond, Mt. Baker. To the east, the Cascades. To the west, the Olympic range, rising out of a glowing, pink horizon. Behind us, Mt. Rainier.
“It’s so smooth!” she said. “Like slicing through whipped cream!”
The air was like glass. We leveled off and followed the western shore of Lake Washington. She spotted her apartment building on Capitol Hill.
“All the buildings look like models!” she shouted. “This is beautiful!”
Down below was the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, and up ahead, the metal towers of the Soundgarden sculpture at Sand Point.
“Have you ever been to the Soundgarden?” she asked.
“Lots of times!” I yelled, remembering how I used to sit there for hours, watching the airplanes fly over, listening to the wind blow across a series of pipes.
At the north end of the lake, I pointed out all the floatplanes at Kenmore, where I used to work on the docks. Then I banked into a gentle turn to the west, and we flew into the fiery sunset.
“Too bad we can’t just keep going,” she said. “Following the sunset around the planet….”
Over Discovery Park, I called the tower.
“Cessna 49838, make left traffic, runway 31 left. Report reaching Spokane Street.”
Off the left wing, the Space Needle stood next to a throng of skyscrapers coming alive with glimmering lights. Ahead, Mt. Rainier kept watch over the city.
I entered a left Downwind, and a few minutes later we were gliding toward the runway. Floating down final, time took on the consistency of molasses. Thirty degrees of flaps, hold that airspeed. Nose up through the glowing horizon. Hold it off, hold it off, hold it off-
Squeak. The wheels gently touched the earth … and the calm, cool, and collected pilot turned into a raving, fidgety, loopy fool.
“I can’t believe it!” I shouted. “That landing was perfect! And the sky! And the sunset! Flights don’t get any better than this! You have no idea! That was amazing! Unbelievable!”
“Cessna 49838, turn right next taxiway, taxi to parking this frequency.”
We pulled off the runway, and I fumbled with the checklists. “Pre-landing Checklist.” No, wrong one. Turn the page. “Post-landing Checklist.” That’s right, clean up the plane. Carb heat off, flaps up, transponder off.
Back on the ramp, I pulled the mixture, and the prop came to a stop. Silence.
“Thank-you,” she said. That was amazing.”.
“No,” I said. “Thank-you. Whether you knew it or not. . .you were my first passenger.”
“You waited until after the flight to tell me that, huh?”
I grinned. My first flight as a private pilot, my first flight with a passenger, had been perfect in every way.
My first solo flight seven years before had been thrilling. But this flight had been better. Much better. Flying alone for the first time, there hadn’t been time for wonder. But with my first passenger, I could merely glance over, and see it in her eyes. She didn’t know anything about the horizontal component of lift, about squawking VFR, or about entering the pattern on a forty-five. While my mind raced with altitudes, and headings, and frequencies, she saw only the sky.
This, I thought as I tied the plane down, this is why I learned to fly. Not to get from here to there quickly. Not to play with buttons and knobs. I learned to fly so I could give others the gift of perspective. And in spite of the control tower, and the runway lights, and the concrete all around, I felt like a barnstormer in a hayfield as we walked to her car.
I grinned all the way home, all that night, and all the next day, as I replayed the flight in my mind, over and over. It was a turning point in my life. I couldn’t help wondering if she had any idea that regardless of what happened between us, I would always remember her and those glorious moments aloft.
While walking on the beach the night before, we had concluded that a lifetime of sensations meant much more when sensed with another. The sea is vast and mysterious. But the sky, well, that was my soul out there on the horizon that we flew toward. My rapture that evening came not from seeing a perfect sunset from the air, but from seeing a perfect sunset from the air with someone else. And from seeing her smile.
I was a pilot. An epiphany in the wake of serendipity is magic.
About the Author
Mike Singer is a Co-Founder and the Marketing Director of Why Fly. Learn more.