I’ve struggled with the fear of flying most of my adult life. The first flight I experienced was in a 737 departing from Kansas City, Missouri with the destination of Dallas, Texas. It wasn’t awful, in fact, it was a seamless flight in every way. My anxiety about not being attached to the ground somehow kept me on edge, just the same. And when the wheels touched down for the first time, my arms went flying up into the air like I was starting “the wave” at a Husker football game, only I was the lone contributor to the entertainment; how embarrassing!
My husband, on the other hand, enjoys a good plane ride. Although he has never flown on a commercial jet, he has spent his share of time in puddle jumpers. Thirteen years ago, in search of the perfect gift for our 3rd wedding anniversary, I arranged for a private plane ride for him, flying over our area of the county to view the Christmas lights from above. We were young and in love, and I would have done anything to make him smile. The truth is, I still would, and do!
Making the arrangements for the flight was the easy part. The anticipation of getting on that plane nearly killed me! In the hour or so before our “surprise” flight, I was a bundle of nerves. I wasn’t hungry and I felt sick to my stomach. I drove like a mad woman, I probably talked incessantly; all while trying to pass the time until our scheduled flight. Evidently, I was all too transparent because he asked, “Are we going… flying?”. When I looked at him in shock, and questioned why he would ask me that, he replied with, “I can’t think of anything besides flying that would make you so anxious, you’re a mess!”.
The flight was smooth, the view was amazing (when I had the nerve to look), and my darling husband enjoyed the ride immensely. It was the perfect gift; he loved it! And we had another special surprise in store for us, because in the days that followed we learned we were expecting our first baby. Our little “peanut”, Emily, had been on that flight too. Now that I think of it, my “condition” likely didn’t help my stomach any.
Ironically, I’ve always had an admiration for aircraft; I could sit at an air show and watch the planes and helicopters fly over all day. It never appealed to me to be in one though… in the air. And when our kids were offered a plane ride by a family friend, I was less than willing to even consider the idea; not at first anyway. Eventually I gave in; CF reminded me that I was allowing my own fears get in the way of what our kids wanted. So I let them fly. Now that I think about it, I believe that was the summer my hair grew silver highlights!
Sid thought flying was alright, but like his mother, he thought he’d rather stick to the ground. Emily was a different story. She loved everything about flying, and she wanted to fly as often as she could. This wasn’t easy for me to accept, or watch, but these plane rides happened a little more frequently as time went by.
One particular event, a local town celebration, had perhaps the biggest impact on her love of flying. A medical helicopter from a nearby hospital came to the celebration to give a demonstration. The weather was extremely hot that day, and the helicopter had landed in the middle of the football field, where absolutely no shade could be found. The majority of the townspeople stayed on the other end of town, trying to catch a cool mist from the volunteer fire department’s competitive water fights instead.
Back at the football field, Emily and Sid tried out all four seats in the helicopter; the two most favored, of course, were in the front. Em entertained the pilot for nearly 30 minutes with questions, and he obliged her with answers and a demonstration. When the pilot spoke up to the small crowd gathered around, “Who does this girl belong to?” I sheepishly waved my hand and stepped forward. With a big smile on his face he said, “She has asked some really good questions, and apparently has a big interest in helicopters. Would it be alright if we took her up for a ride?” Gasp, swallow, palpitations… “Really? You would take her up?”
Getting a ride in an air ambulance is a pretty rare event, unless of course you’re a patient. If they were up in the air giving a ride, and they were dispatched to an emergency, they would have to drop their passengers off first; further delaying response time. And even though, in this case, the flight crew was “timed out” for the event, they would still need to leave if their services were needed.
Of course I said “Yes” to the pilot, graciously, and CF gave me the look of pride as though I were evolving somehow. We asked if they had room for Sid too, and he said, “We can take both of them, and one more if someone would like to ride up there with them.” There was my chance, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I already had difficulty remembering to breathe; those were my babies getting on that aircraft. CF would have gone instead, but there was a lady who volunteered quite willingly to go, so he stayed on the ground… and held me up instead.
The pilot sat Emily up front with him, and quizzed her on how much she remembered from what he had just shown her. He let her start battery 1 and 2, and tie them. She started generator 1 and 2, and tied them both as well. Together they checked all the caution and warning lights, and various other protocols before starting the rotors. Then they were off.
We didn’t have to ask if Emily enjoyed the ride, the smile on her face spoke volumes. Sid was pretty excited as well. And although he didn’t care for the feeling of flying “backwards” in the rear of the aircraft, he felt pretty important that day too; after all, how many times in your life does that opportunity come about?
Emily was front and center in the local newspaper; she caused quite a stir with the locals. The story was about her, and her dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.
There was no way that pilot could have known what he started that hot, Nebraska day in the middle of a football field, and how he encouraged a dream in someone so young. Although I know he felt our appreciation when we thanked him kindly with a handshake, and again later with a card, I think he would be amazed to see how she has pursued her dream since that day.
Check back for “The Sky’s The Limit: Part II”