Another story I wrote for a nonfiction writing class in college that I’m posting for a class I’m teaching.
When most people think of being lifted to greater heights, they talk about emotional things – love, enlightenment, winning an award, someone making them feel better about themselves or something they’ve done. I do, too, but having been taken to greater heights quite literally, I’ve learned to look at it in a whole new way.
In short, driving will never be cool again.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love to drive, but nothing will be able to compare with what I had the chance to do one night in early September 2010.
I was taking a videography class to complete my journalism degree and was tasked with the final assignment of coming up with a story and editing it together into a package. I was going to do something basic, like the process of baking a cake or something, but then a friend of mine, Linda, gave me an amazing idea.
“Why don’t you ask my dad? He might be willing to do something with you.”
Linda’s dad is a mechanic at the Muncie airport, working primarily with the autopilot systems in small private planes. He also happens to have his own plane. How many of my classmates would be able to do something like this for their project? And how cool would it be to go flying?
I hadn’t been in a plane of any kind since I was fifteen years old, when my grandmother, brother, and I went out to Utah to visit my cousins. I had loved it then and was sure I’d love it now.
I had no idea.
After church, I followed Ken and Patrick, a boy who rode on our bus route, out to the Muncie airport. It was starting to get dark and I was desperately hoping to have enough light for some decent footage. We got out of our cars and I started gathering my equipment – my camera, voice recorder, and cell phone (which remained off for the flight) – while Ken opened the hangar door, which had a smaller, vertically-opening door in one of the horizontal panels of the hangar door. In the hangar stood a 1956 V-Tail Beechcraft Bonanza, painted mostly white with red and blue stripes. When he asked me what year I thought it was, I guessed 1998. It was in incredible shape! It sat four skinny people comfortably and had little blue curtains on the back windows.
We climbed in, careful to avoid stepping anywhere near the flaps, as much as could be achieved. I got my camera out and video taped his hands checking his instruments, praying my camera’s microphone was catching what he was saying. We headed toward the runway and before I know it, we’re airborne.
The view was amazing. It was sunset and the last vestiges of the sun turned the sky to the west brilliant shades of pinks and oranges. We could make out Ball State and Patrick’s house and other landmarks like tiny models beneath us. As the sun set even lower, Ken asked a puzzling question.
“Have you ever seen the sun set twice in one night?”
Well, no, no I haven’t.
He dropped altitude a bit until we couldn’t see the sun off to our right anymore and then shot upwards, effectively causing the illusion of seeing the sun set and rise again. He repeated the process twice before sun had sunk to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore.
We flew around for a bit before we spotted the Prairie Creek Reservoir. This was when Ken started telling me how to steer the plane. I thought he was just imparting information, and, as it turned out, I was really glad I had been listening.
“To go left, you turn the control gently left. To go right, you turn the control gently right. To make the plane go up, pull the controls towards you – gently – to make it go down, you push – gently. Got it?”
I nodded and my heart rate sped up. My body knew what was coming, even if my mind, inexplicably, hadn’t figured it out yet.
You’ve got to be kidding. He knew I didn’t have my pilot’s license, right?
He flipped the controls over to me. “Let’s go around the reservoir.”
I grabbed the controls. I couldn’t believe it. I was flying a freaking plane! We made our way in a slow circle around the reservoir and flew a little ways before Ken took the controls again. I was on a high for the rest of the night. We flew around for a while, with Patrick getting a turn at the controls. The boy couldn’t be much more than eleven, but he was a natural, sitting on Ken’s lap so he could see through the windshield. I think his lack of experience with vehicles, on-the-road or otherwise, made him less nervous. His face lit up like an electric light, a huge smile filling his face, as he turned the plane left and right, up and down. Ken pointed to the screen of the GPS system, showing us where the plane was and where the airport was located.
“See that pink line?” he asked Patrick, pushing a button to reveal a thick line between us and the airport, “Point the plane that way.”
Was he honestly going to let Patrick land? I couldn’t tell. A natural pilot he may have been, but I was far from trusting my life to a child. Ken would tell me later that he had landed planes in far more precarious situations than this one (with one engine, with no working landing gear, etc) and I would have been terrified in that situation, with an accomplished pilot. This plane was in great condition and I breathed a silent sigh of relief when Ken finally took the plane back and Patrick climbed back into his seat in the back and buckled his seatbelt.
We glided in to land, wheels kissing the ground without so much as a jolt. If I hadn’t seen outside the window, I would have thought we were still in the air. Ken taxied back to the hangar and put the plane back before taking us on a tour around to where he worked in another building and showed us more of the planes that were still being worked on. A US Air Force plane was being gutted and refurbished in its own room. Some of the planes in the hangar were only a few years old, but some, like Ken’s were old hands at flight, but they shone just as brightly as the newer ones that sat beside them. I’ll have to use that for a metaphor later.
The drive home was about as anti-climactic as it could get. How do you just drive when less than an hour before, you were flying over the city and watching the sun set from miles in the air? I drove home with a goofy grin all over my face, still high on the experience. The next time Ken needs a flight buddy, I call dibs.
I really want my pilot’s license now.