Feeling Gravity’s Pull

A page from my pilot logbook.
A page from my pilot logbook.

Over half of my life has elapsed since I last piloted an aircraft.

Any way you read it that is a big statement. First off, how am I that old to begin with?! But, there it is clearly printed in my own handwriting in black and white. The last entry in my pilot logbook is dated June 27, 1992; approximately one month after I graduated from high school. Somehow grown adults thought it was perfectly fine to allow me to pilot an aircraft – on my own no less!

I remember that I was at least a passenger in a general aviation aircraft after my last logbook entry because I know I attended an EAA show in Oshkosh once or twice after that with my dad, but the summer of 1992 must have been the last time I actually flew a plane as part of my training.

Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around
Peel back the mountains peel back the sky
Stomp gravity into the floor
It’s a Man Ray kind of sky
Let me show you what I can do with it
Time and distance are out of place here

“Feeling Gravity’s Pull” – R.E.M.

In December 2014, after a tumultuous couple of years in my personal life, I began to think it was time to set some goals for the future. I felt it was important to start to think about what I wanted to accomplish and therefore give myself more self-confidence and a sense of happiness.

Over the past year, I got into motorcycles for the first time in my life, which was both exhilarating and gave a rush of freedom away from the pressures of everyday life and the constant pull of our electronic devices. Any activity that requires your utmost concentration, while still giving you pleasure, seems somewhat rare in this age of multitasking. These types of pursuits stimulate your brain in body in ways that are hard to measure, but surely give you happiness and a sense of accomplishment. My brain, allowed to rest from everyday stress and focus completely on an activity, awoke my senses to precisely tune into each movement and decisions seemed sharper.

One day, as I sat resting in the office of my parent’s house, I began to look around at the pictures and artifacts on the walls and shelves. A picture of my dad and I standing next to a 1948 Cessna 170 the day I flew my first solo at age 16 hung next to a picture of N5659E, the 1959 Cessna 150 used to do my solo. My mom’s framed TWA marketing posters hung behind me on the wall, while old airplane instruments sat on shelves across the room, and a model of the 1953 Cessna 170B my dad co-owned before I was born dangled from the ceiling.

I thought about the regret I felt for all those years after not completing my private pilot’s license. I thought about the unfinished business I’d left behind. As a teenager, I logged 32.1 hours in the left seat of an airplane learning how to fly. Less than 8 hours short of the minimum 40 hours needed to meet the requirement of the private pilot’s license. All I needed to do was finish the cross-country legs, night flying, IFR, the written exam and check ride.

Looking back now it seems like a short amount of time and I reasoned to myself that I should have had plenty of time to finish up before I went to college in the fall. But, I realized that’s an adult perspective looking back at the free time of a teenager and wondering where the time went. Thinking back I know my time went to the band I was playing in at the time, a workshop I attended, getting ready to go to college, and generally having fun. All seemed equally important, if not more so, with a whole lifetime ahead of me. However, life did get in the way and things changed and in the next few years as I got busy with college and part-time jobs and my dad sold his shares of the airplanes he owned and went full-time into his true first love, hot rods.

Somewhere near the end it said
“You can’t do this,” I said, “I can, too.”
Shift sway rivers shift, oceans fall and mountains drift
It’s a Man Ray kind of sky
Let me show you what I can do with it

“Feeling Gravity’s Pull” – R.E.M.

Back in the present day, I had a revelation. I thought, “Why couldn’t I finish my private pilot’s license? What was holding me back or really getting in my way?”

Besides the normal hurdles of the monetary costs, the only thing holding me back is desire and time. The more I thought about the prospects the higher my desire rose that I wanted to try flying again. The next step: research the necessary steps needed to accomplish my goal.

Since it’s 2015 and not 1992, I started searching the internet for information. I sought out websites like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, local fixed base operators and other outlets such as podcasts or videos. I went to my local bookstore  and found copies of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and Airplane Flying Handbook published by the Federal Aviation Administration. I found there were two different styles of pilot training, part 61 and part 141, and decided that part 61 was the best option for me and obviously the type of training I received over 20 years ago.

Nevertheless, the biggest source of local information was driving to a nearby airport and discussing the prospects of finishing my private pilot’s license in person. When my dad had interest in airplanes he and his partner and my prior flight instructor, Chuck, kept the aircraft in various locations including Highland Winet, the defunct Lakeside Airport, and Greenville Airport. I decided to try Greenville first and ended up talking to airport manager, Troy Walker. He provided me with important information I needed on flight instructors, airplane rental rates, the local pilot’s association and even allowed me to use the flight simulator.

As always, that personal touch was exactly what I needed to make me want to “slip the surly bonds of earth” once again. A plan was set in motion to achieve a goal. Time to get to work.

Step up, step up, step up the sky is open-armed
When the light is mine, I felt gravity pull onto my eyes,
Holding my head straight (looking down)
This is the easiest task I’ve ever had to do

“Feeling Gravity’s Pull” – R.E.M.

Soundtrack: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” – R.E.M.