“ What the heck are you doing? Crossing over to the dark side?”
Even before Rob asked this question, the look on his face told me what was about to come. I had just let him in on the imminent purchase of a Cessna 170 and that “confession” left him speechless.
While I showed him a couple of photos of my bird he slowly recovered: “ ok ok, at least she looks pretty, but those wings are too short, and the noise from that fan up front…..“
Of course, he didn’t stop with the comment about the prop, he tortured me some more: “What happened to challenge and fun? Are you happy with something akin to leisure-boating around a close-by reservoir?”
Inhale – twenty one, twenty two, twenty three – exhale…
Then I started to look through Rob’s eyes – and saw the same: me, waiting for a quiet sunday afternoon, rolling the plane out of the hangar, filing a flightplan and drawing a straight and level line in the sky to my goal and back.
But that’s not who I am as a pilot!
And Rob knows that.
But he doesn’t know about my childhood-dream, and all the phantasies and tales I had spun around it.
So I had some explaining to do.
Fortunately, even before starting in earnest on my “barnstormer” project, I had asked myself a similar question: ”Do I really want to do that, and why?”
“I really wasn’t interested much in flying small ‘simple’ airplanes on a nice sunday afternoon for a hobby. It was the complexity and challenge to pilot big machines in any weather to places far away… which attracted me ” I wrote here and: “Dancing with the wind, playing among clouds, enjoying what the interplay of Nature’s forces with advanced aerodynamics offered, that’s what I spent most of my free time on ” there.
So what made me pursue my dream of buying a small, “simple” Cessna to “barnstorm” through the US?
Every time I think about it I eventually get stuck on the words “Nature” and “curiosity”.
As you remember (read up again here) this dream was spawned by reading a book about flying to and in Alaska. Fascinated by chapters about adventurous flying as well as by the description of geography, climate and people I wondered what it would be like to fly there myself, slip (at least for some time) into the lifestyle of a bush pilot and learn more about weather, mountains, fauna and flora up North.
Nature and curiosity, in my dream…
In soaring Nature plays a dominant role, of course. Just think about how weather and topography cooperate to create opportunities – and challenges – when- and wherever one launches for soaring flight.
No “fan” on my glider, it’s solely my knowledge of atmospheric processes and how to use them which determine how long, how far, or how high I can fly.
Collaborating with Nature and her forces not only made me respect her, I also felt an increasing gratitude for the sublime moments and spectacular views she rewarded me with. Only from the cockpit of my sailplane, that particular point in space and time, was I able to enjoy enchanting views and perspectives nobody else would have a chance to appreciate.
Occasionally my photographer’s eye anticipated an even more spectacular sight from a slightly different position, perhaps a couple of hundred yards further, fifty feet higher. But this spot was unaccessible by my glider. Nature selected those experiences and vistas for me, as I had to dance to her tune, follow the very steps she had marked for a soaring pilot.
In some of them she led me to places where looking down transported me into a seemingly different world and made me curious about what it would be like to live there, to hike across the hills, along the river, through the village… In a glider, maintaining a safe altitude above those idyllic scenes, my phantasies remained just that: phantasies.
In others she teased me with intruiging clouds I had no chance to get to – or back from – with my silent wings.
Nature and – unsatisfied – curiosity in my soaring-life…
Cutting about 40 ft off of the wing of my sailplane and adding a trusty Continental engine would change my options, and alter my experiences for sure.
For better or worse?
In a Cessna 170 I just might be able to land down there, walk around and connect with place and people in a direct, immediate way.
She would allow me to motor out to these strange looking clouds and investigate – and promise to calm, at least part of, my urge to inquire.
And isn’t a 170 just a (very) poor glider with an unusually powerful engine ?
With that type of “motorglider” I could fly when no updrafts were expected, and pick places to land – and when to take off again – from a much larger selection.
Thinking about all that it dawned on me that the role of the aircraft I want to fly had changed. Instead of “dancing with the wind and playing among the clouds….” (in my glider) I was now looking forward to exploring the sky and connecting with places and people on the ground (in my Cessna).
From toy to tool, perhaps?
I wanted to go to places and land there rather than using those places as mere markers of distance flown and returning as fast as possible.
With the “land there”-part came a new set of welcome challenges: to land – deliberately, not forced by lack of upwards moving air – and take off in the shortest possible distance, sometimes even off-airport. Challenge – and fun, which for me are synonymous in most cases – as much as I can stand: seems to me that Rob’s question from above was answered.
What was also answered, I realized, was my question: ”Do I really want to do that, and why?”
Whether having more control in my Cessna over where to fly to and when increased my interest in visiting places or my curiosity about what a particular corner of the US looked like drove me towards a “plane with a fan” doesn’t matter.
In the end it sounded pretty close to “…piloting … machines… in any weather to places far away…”, doesn’t it? And that was part of my (young self’s) dream of living a pilot’s life.
So a lot of how and why my dream came to life has to do with:
Back to the roots – as simple as that!