SI Vault
Joan Dickinson
August 25, 1958
A young housewife who went on a learn-to-fly vacation describes the excitement, the trials and errors, and the deep satisfaction of taking to the air
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August 25, 1958

The Sky Was Mine

A young housewife who went on a learn-to-fly vacation describes the excitement, the trials and errors, and the deep satisfaction of taking to the air

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"Like this!" He laughed, leaped up and down, flailing his arms. Then he slammed the door and walked off, never even once looking back.

It sure was quiet. I ran up the engine. Well, no need to get out of here in a hurry, I thought, let's see if everything's all right. Glad I checked the engine myself tonight even though I hadn't expected to fly. Then I had a feeling I was stalling for time, what with the question I forgot, and now the instruments. Brakes off, flaps down, heat off. It happened so quickly, I was way up in the air before I'd had time to even think. And I was going practically straight up! Climbing too steep. Push the nose, trim it down. I turned out over the ocean. Amazing how the thing flies with only me in it. Too light, the turns don't feel right. And I was still climbing. If I got any higher I'd have to concentrate on losing a lot of altitude in a short time. Then I'd be coming in steep over those damn wires.

Look at the beach. I'm riding alone over the beach!

It wasn't until then, about halfway around the field at 1,000 feet, that the full realization hit me—and I began to smile, and I kept right on smiling. It was a good feeling. Altitude was all right now, rpm's, manifold pressure—I checked everything. I wasn't going to make a mistake. Well, just look at this! Why in the world did he decide to sit on that pile of dirt? I rolled my plane over and looked down to see if I could find him. He must look silly perched out there in the middle of the field, his legs crossed, patiently waiting for me to come back. And on a new runway at that! Oh, oh—coming up on the harbor already. Better pay attention. I wanted plenty of time to land. Make the turn, heat on. There's the barn, the tar road, the dirt road. Nose up, slow down. Nose down, flaps on. Then I hit that blooming rough air. I'll ride it out. Oh, those damn wires, and now I was blowing off too far to one side of the runway. Add a little power, just till I'm sure. Cut the engine off. Nose straight. Wind's not so bad, after all—hold it off—and I reached for the brake. Now isn't that something? I was on the ground! I'd really like to do that again. That's the first thing I thought of. If he was back at the radio like he was supposed to be, I'd call him up and tell him I was going to do that again. This flying was the best idea I've ever had.

I taxied back to ask him if I could go once more. Steve is the only man I know who properly fulfills the word "lumbering," and he was lumbering down the runway now to meet me, not quite running, his sports jacket flapping in the wind. He opened the door and gave me a great big kiss, and I forgot all about going up while I thanked him, chattering all the way back to the hangar.

"This is great, and you really are wonderful," I said for the second time. And I thought he was. Anybody who could teach me to fly was really something.

"How about that? Huh?" And for the first time he didn't say "safe once more." On my license went the notation that I was competent to solo a Tri-Pacer, and in the log went Steve's report, with the officially initialed comment, "Now we start living!"

Without even discussing it, I presumed my solo realm of flight was still limited to circles over my own field, but after my second landing alone, after a few more days of dual instruction, I got a call on the radio as I pulled up over the hangar, to take a trip, to go wherever I wanted—so I started climbing and went off toward the west and the gleaming cliffs of Gay Head.

I don't think there is anything in the world like flying west at sunset. The sea is still then, the sand lustrous, the stone walls and hedgerows cleanly outline the fields. This was my moment of flying—tonight the sky was mine. My first solo had been but a fleeting episode of excitement. This was what I had long awaited, the thing I had always hoped flying would be to me. It was neither conquest nor triumph, but deep personal satisfaction—and a moment of complete happiness. It was a certain kind of feeling that I believe only other fliers can understand and experience, and I understand now why so many of them get tongue-tied when people ask what it's like to be up there alone.

All I can say is that it feels good—it feels real good—and for me it's only just beginning.

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