I waited at the end of the narrow grass strip that was lined on either side by rows of baby Christmas trees, barely three feet tall. I had my favorite old, gray helmet on, the one with the yellow stripe that I used for riding motorcycles. It had served me well in the past but I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary on this sunny, July afternoon.
I was nervous, it was an excited kind of nervous, but the feeling was strong enough to cast some doubt in my mind as to whether or not I should be doing this. The 2-stroke engine was idling noisily above my head while it slowly spun the wooden propeller behind me. There was a knot in my stomach and I almost didn’t go through with it. The wind was dead calm and if ever there was a time to do it, the time was now. I summoned all the courage a kid the age of 13 could, and squeezed the trigger throttle until it wouldn’t squeeze anymore. The little engine screamed out its tune and before 50 feet of soft, green grass could pass beneath the tires … I was airborne.
Almost immediately I felt a sensation of pure calm and confidence. I was no longer nervous or scared. I felt completely in control and I was amazed at how natural it felt to not be on the ground. I felt as if I had been doing this my entire life and that this is truly where I belonged.
I watched the tiny Christmas trees become increasingly smaller as I slowly ascended. I had no particular destination and I had no particular schedule to keep. I was just flying … nothing more, nothing less.
There was no tachometer to monitor, no airspeed indicator, no altimeter, nothing. There were only the sights, sounds and sensations of a whole new world. There was wind in my face and a feeling of pure joy in my soul. The only non-organic sound was the engine and propeller taking me to a destination I had never been before on my own … the sky.
I wasn’t old enough to legally drive a car, but here I was operating an aircraft, alone. I was almost drunk with euphoria at the total freedom and sensory overload I was experiencing, yet I felt a responsibility to remain focused and calm. I made turns, climbs and descents by shifting my weight forward, backward and from side to side. I looked at things from above and was excited at the extra dimension I was now able to utilize. I could see people looking up at me from below, marveling at the colorful wings that I had grown. They didn’t know that this was my maiden voyage. In their eyes I was an equal to anyone who had been flying for years. To them I could’ve been 40 years old, or 30, or maybe even 20 … but not 13, that would be impossible.
After what seemed like a lifetime, or maybe it was an instant, I turned and headed back toward the short, green grass and rows of Christmas trees. I gently released the throttle and let the engine idle with its steady, “popping” reply. The sound of the wind passing through the wires and aluminum tubing provided another new, extraordinary sound to my young ears. One of the many sounds and sensations that I hoped I would experience much more of in the future.
I shifted my weight forward slightly and began the descent toward the earth. Acting primarily on instinct and feel, I guided the craft toward the grass strip. I positioned myself in line with the mowed grass and was careful to stay between the rows of short trees. Having never landed a flying machine before, I had to rely on what I had seen my father do hundreds of times before, and emulate it. The tires and grass reunited in a friendly fashion, as if to say, “it’s nice to see you again, how have you been?”
I brought the Quicksilver to a stop in front of my smiling father and I reached up and silenced the reliable engine with the kill switch. As the propeller slowed to a stop, I could see the pride my father felt by looking in his eyes, which in turn allowed me to be proud of myself as well. Even at my young age, I somehow knew that I wouldn’t fully grasp the significance of this moment until much later in my life.
Later on that evening I reflected back my new experience. I had viewed the world from a new perspective. I had looked around at the earth from above, and although I had seen it before from that vantage point as a passenger, I had never seen it until this day through these eyes …
The eyes of a pilot.
About the Author
Scott Burris’s father taught him to fly ultralight aircraft at age 13, but due to the lack of access to a two-seat trainer at the time, Scott’s first solo flight was also his first flight… ever.
Despite starting at such an early age, Scott didn’t actually get his first pilot certificate until he was 22. Since that time he has obtained an ATP with 5 type ratings and flown over 9000 hours in many different aircraft, ranging from a Quicksilver ultralight to an Airbus A330, (his favorite being a 1941 D17s). He has worn 5 different airline uniforms over his 19 year aviation career and is currently flying for a foreign airline based in Seoul, South Korea.
He recently acquired a 1957 Champ, in need of restoration. When he isn’t flying, Scott enjoys working on and driving his classic, 1969 Mustang and riding motorcycles. He lives in Gig Harbor, WA with his wife, Kim, (who is also a pilot), his dog and 2 cats.