“Kaiserwetter” – “emperor’s weather” it’s called in Munich – when the air is fragrant and fresh with the green aroma of Spring. The splendid sunshine and warmth carry the promise of summer and the sky is clear and wide, decorated with a few breezy cumuli. With the alps close by, the clouds are rising high. The sky is calling.
Biking to my new work place through an expansive, lush meadow, I reflect on my last summer on the East Coast, the magical time when I learned to fly. First of all, there were the lovely early morning lessons: I fondly remember waking at dawn to the theme of Top Gun playing on my iphone. Sleepiness giving way to gleeful anticipation, while sipping hot coffee in the delicate, brisk morning air on the balcony. Situated between two Victor airways, my lookout was facing West in the direction of that loveliest of harbors – my airport.
Then there would be the drive out to the field, listening to some favorite music of the moment, enjoying to get out of the city and into open landscape. The liberating sensation of being on the way to engage in a new and outrageous activity – flying lessons! Giddy and in high spirits, I would salute a large flock of indignantly clucking turkeys, who would often strut about on the grass strip next to the access road. But what could be more exciting than the sight of a flock of airplanes, sitting on the ramp, ready to fly? Gathering my coffee mug and flight bag I’d take a deep breath – inhaling the fragrance of avgas with a hint of jet fuel. The smell of adventure. 10 feet tall and light as a feather I’d swagger to the FBO.
I love to remember stepping out on the ramp to preflight my worn, flight school Cessna. Sharply outlined in the sunshine, her ailerons bent, paint peeling in places. Her controls heavy, her avionics most basic, but the engine in top condition and, after 3 generous, squeaky primes, starting up smooth and strong. I would put on my sunglasses and headset, ready to go. She was my LOL, my little old lady, and I would taxi her proudly to the active.
The smallest deviation from the centerline was to be paid to my flight instructor in beers. I was running quite a tab. The atmosphere in the small, hot cockpit was always friendly and supportive, yet intensely focused with an acute attention for detail. As it should be. Pulling up to the hold-short line and squinting into the bright, sun-filled approach end for arriving traffic, I always felt privileged to be taught by such a terrific aviator. He’d notice the large bird of prey circling frequently over the short final right away. One hawk spotting the other.
With permission for takeoff, my focus would entirely shift to the tasks at hand, flying the airplane. I’d scan the horizon for traffic, register the G forces during my steep turns and notice the change in control effectiveness during slow flight. But only on the way back to the field, after getting the weather update and announcing my intentions (Touch and Go’s!) I’d realize, with a start, that I was indeed up there in the gentle summer air, blue mountains stretching out over New Hampshire, a soft, green landscape dotted with lakes. Laid out in the distance, graceful and shimmering, the city of Boston and behind it, the Atlantic ocean, immense and calm. The E on my heading indicator pointing towards Europe. Light, air, land and ocean in harmony. I was learning to command a new medium, and while everything about learning to fly an airplane was new and strange, in moments like this, I felt completely at ease, home.