Before I flew up to take my check ride I looked at my logbook: I had sixty-eight hours of time in flight. That seemed rather amazing. Less than two weeks of full time work. The time away from my regular job over six months (April to October) was less than a two week vacation. Easily accomplished in weekends and in the evenings. The amount of ground school was probably less than ten hours, not including the time I spent studying for the FAA written exam (which was at home with some DVDs).
Using the plane to get back and forth to Las Vegas will save me time. Using it to get back and forth to our house in the desert or up to see friends in Santa Barbara will save us time. If it gives us the impetus to go all the way up to the Bay area (Nell has friends for us to visit in Sonoma Valley, and we could visit people in Atherton along the way) it will save us the drive time and give us the additional motivation to make a trip that we often say we would like to make but rarely schedule the time to do.
As I flew up to Paso Robles that day I thought about the plane as my time machine, both for snipping time off of travel and as a way to create a time apart, a time away from the concerns I have while on the ground. Occasionally while flying I also feel connected back to my grandfather’s time in a single engine plane, and so it is a bit of a time machine that way, stapling together similar moments generations apart.
Right now I am crossing the country at a speed that he couldn’t have guessed at when he was learning to fly. I am sitting next to Nell with Rudy and Dexter in the row in front of us, and we are crossing entire time zones without seeing the ground. We jetted across for a wedding in Washington DC and the boys got to take in the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial, the Air and Space wing of the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the National Gallery. We stood under the wings of Charles Lindbergh’s planes (the one that crossed the Atlantic and also the other one which he and his wife flew north to the Orient), and stared up at the nose needle on the X1 which Chuck Yeager flew faster than sound.
As I sit here at close to three hundred fifty knots (I’m sure we have at least a hundred mile per hour headwind), it feels like sitting in the cramped aisle of some strange reading room. Nell types away next to me while the boys watch their cartoons. People around me are reading, but mostly watching television. No one on the plane (with the possible exception of those on the flight deck) are enjoying the wonders of flight, only the advantages of it. There’s cloud cover so we can’t see the land slipping away beneath us, or enjoy our perspective.
It reminds me that one of the things I wondered about Lindbergh was that he didn’t fly when he was older. He said that the passenger jets stole his sense of flight and insulated him from the motion of flying. He didn’t like flying first class because it insulated him even farther. Why didn’t he fly everywhere? Why didn’t he live at an air park (a community of a few houses around an airstrip) and fly whenever he had a meeting somewhere? If he had to be in Connecticut (they lived there on the shore), why didn’t he have a float plane, or a sea plane, so that when he had to fly to Detroit or Washington he just pushed off from the dock? That’s mysterious to me.
If I could, I would be flying us everywhere already. It would have taken two days to fly across the country in one of the little planes, but if I moved up to a small jet we could have made it in a day. Along the way we could have seen the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, St. Louis’ arch… just the sort of tour you should take a couple little boys on of their country.
Maybe in the spring for the cherry blossoms.