Up In the Air

I love airplanes. I’ve loved them ever since the first time I saw the film “Top Gun” as a kid. I later came to the conclusion that “Top Gun” is a chick flick. It must’ve been the many factual errors, the steamy love scene with Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis, and the scenes with the guys walking around in the locker room wearing only hand towels around their waists. But the fact is that the F-14 Tomcat flown in “Top Gun” is one awesome airplane, and I’ll still go out of my way to catch it when it’s on TV.

But my favorite airplane has always been the F-15 Eagle. The F-15 is not only the superior aircraft of its era, but it’s the most beautiful airplane that I’ve ever seen. And it’s amazing to me that something so big can be so fast and maneuverable! I don like war at all, but for a long time after I first saw the air show at Thunder over Louisville, I dreamed of someday flying the F-15 Eagle in front of my hometown on the day of that pre-Kentucky Derby event.

Uncle Marty was another guy that was fascinated by airplanes. He was actually the one that got me very interested in planes. We’d always talk about airplanes. Uncle Marty introduced me to the show “Wings” on the Discovery Channel. Whenever Uncle Marty was out, he’d always find pictures of airplanes for me.

I’ve never even seen an F-15 Eagle up-close, but Uncle Marty found an opportunity for me to fly in an airplane.

One morning in September of 1998, Uncle Marty drove me to a small airfield in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. We were to meet his buddy, whom I’ll call “Ace” since I don’t remember his actual name, and because he was the man with the pilot’s license.

On the way to the airfield, Uncle Marty read out-loud the directions that Ace had given him. When Uncle Marty started driving down a long stretch of road that lead to the road that was to take us to the airfield, he told me the name of the road and to keep an eye out for it.

After a few minutes of driving, Uncle Marty pointed to ten o’clock at a building that was under construction on the side of the road. I don’t know, I guess when you’re into tools like Uncle Marty was into tools, the sight of anything under construction makes you temporarily forget everything else. I’m not a tool guy, but I turned my head to see what Uncle Marty was checking out, anyway.

Uncle Marty drove miles down that road until he stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. Yes, and Uncle Marty was told to drive back down the road from where we came.

Too bad we all have a pair of eyes but can focus only in one direction. Too bad that Uncle Marty and I each had a pair of eyes but could focus in only one direction. It turned out that the road we were supposed to find was almost directly across from that building that Uncle Marty and I were gawking at.

When Uncle Marty and I finally arrived at the airfield, we figured that we were very late since Uncle Marty had also overslept that morning. But as we got out of Uncle Mary’s truck, Ace walked over from the plane to inform us that the person responsible for leaving the key in the plane for us had forgotten to do so. We had to wait for someone to show up and get us the key to the plane.

While we waited, Uncle Marty snapped some pictures, and Ace told us about the Cessna that we were about to fly. We ended up waiting for an hour-or-more before someone finally showed up to get us the key to the plane.

Since Ace had to go inside with a guy to get the keys, Uncle Marty and I decided to use the restroom before we took flight. As we walked through the mini-airport, I got a glimpse of the body of a P-38 Lightning, nicknamed the “Fork-Tailed Devil” by the Japanese during World War II, hanging from the ceiling.

Speaking of “devil,” did I mention that I let the devil talk me into skipping church activities to go flying on this day?

I’m not sure whether, or not, that P-38 body was authentic, but it sure was cool. The P-38 Lightning is actually among my favorite World War II airplanes.

Back to the Cessna, we were ready to take to the sky. Again, Ace was the man with the pilot’s license, so he sat in the front-left seat. I sat in the front-right seat. I was instructed by Dr. Puno to wear my back brace, in case of turbulence, but it was too big for me to wear in that little plane, so I decided to take a risk and leave it in Uncle Marty’s truck.

Uncle Marty sat in the backseat. I don’t quite recall what Uncle Marty’s thoughts were on the back seat, but I can’t imagine the backseat of a Cessna being much bigger than the backseat of a sports car. That would be like us sending a man to the moon and back over thirty-years-ago but it still taking an elevator five minutes to travel between two floors.

I believe that we had to reach about sixty-miles-per-hour to get the plane off of the runway. Uncle Marty and Ace were talking back and forth. Uncle Marty started griping about how Mandy didn’t recharge the battery in the camcorder after she last used it, needless to say that we were unable to catch video footage of this big adventure. I sat and watched everything on the ground get smaller and smaller.

After we reached three-thousand-feet, Ace asked me if I wanted to fly the plane.

Can you believe he asked?

Ace showed me how to steer the plane by using the handle and pedals on my side and then told me what directions to fly.

I was so excited that I kept forgetting about using the pedals. But it didn’t cause anything to go wrong with the plane. Ace probably noticed and used the pedals on his side. I guess that’s possible.

Uncle Marty must not have been paying attention. At one point while he was talking to Ace, he saw Ace using both of his hands as he talked.

“Who’’s flying the plane? Joey’s flying the plane!”

For the whole hour that we were in the sky, I imagined that I was piloting a P-38 Lightning. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I was in a much smaller Cessna, so I don’t think what I imagined was nearly as close to what the real pilots experienced when they flew those planes during World War II. But I sure had a blast trying!

On the way back to Louisville, Uncle Marty talked to me about how I could become a pilot. But I wasn’t even halfway through high school, and there were two or three other careers that I would like to have had. My career in the future was up in the air.


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