Last night, I dreamt about her again. In gleaming sunshine, I took in her shiny splendor. Strong lines bearing a rich and long heritage. Sitting on the ramp elegantly, nose pointed skywards proudly . The wind in her struts whispering a promise of boundless freedom. In the wide expanse of the horizon, we were about to engage in a playful conversation with the physical forces of flight, rolling, looping, spiraling down and soaring up, catching a tiny fragment of infinity.
Stepping around, I caress her outlines and carefully move her control surfaces. Fabric stretched over steel, stars and stripes in blue and yellow. Bright and delicate, yet purposefully simple and strong in her construction. No flaps, large rudder, and a stick between your legs. Barnstormer, to be flown by hand and heart.
Swinging myself into her front seat, I check the instruments: G-meter, engine vitals and altimeter. The pilot as a living and breathing attitude indicator, connecting the position of the horizon line with one’s control inputs while delighting in the splendid views. Listening to engine noise and slipstream, feeling the G-forces. Pure flying. Feet, hands and seat of the pants. No fancy avionics that filter information and feed it to the the pilot, who runs the risk of turning into a complacent consumer, disconnected from the primary forces of flight. In danger of loosing the absolute situational awareness that makes up the allure of stick and rudder flying, of using all senses to fully explore the performance envelope. Make good use of technology in bad weather or on long cross country flights, but when the sun is shining, head to the coast, pull up into a loop over the ocean and delight in a million shades of blue.
Alas, in my dream, I unexplicably forgot to check the weather. While cursing myself for the unbelivable negligence, I look up to the sky and, of course, see dark clouds moving in. Defeated, I taxi the plane to the hangar as big, heavy drops start falling, and then I wake up with a start, feeling cruelly deprived. In the wintery, early morning darkness I force myself up and stumble to the coffee maker, while a dull ache settles in my chest. Acro deprivation. I smile wistfully and welcome the day, grateful for the pain.
He lays my parachute down next to his on the horizontal stabilizer. A small gesture that briefly punctures the cool, deliberate focus of preflight inspection. We pull the straps tight in silence. There is no romance in flying. When nobody watches, I might kiss her cowling before stepping out of the hangar. But an airplane is nothing but a cold machine. There is no mercy for a lapse in attention. An airplane will kill you in an instant. The scientific mind acknowledges that in flying, consequences for every action and inaction arrive with particular acuteness, demanding constant, detached observation, processing and thinking ahead. No room for love and adventure.
Yet, I’m on fire every time I advance to full throttle, feet dancing on the rudder. Yet, the need is irrationally great to balance the craft on the main gear just perfectly, speed building, and gently lift her off the runway for a feather-light take off. Cool and in control, I verify the sight picture, watch out for other traffic and check the airspeed. My heart is soaring while procedural discipline balances the unbearable lightness of being.
I wonder if he dreams about her, too.