Flights of Fancy

I would like to say that the current topic was inspired by our zip-lining experience this past weekend (to celebrate my wife’s birthday we all went as a family to http://www.historicbanningmills.com/ which is just 20 minutes down the road from us).  What fun it was – flying through the air hooked on to a steel cable!  Well anyway, I already had this topic in mind but the zip-lining gave me the momentum I needed to get writing. 🙂

Flying has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  I can’t recall my earliest interest in aviation but I do know that as a boy my hero was none other than that intrepid airman, Biggles – Bigglesworth of the Royal Flying Corp to be precise.  He was a character created by Captain W.E. Johns and I followed the adventures of he and his compatriots through the two World Wars and the Cold War that followed.  Captain Johns knew how to capture a boy’s imagination.  So much so that when I was old enough, in my early teen years, I joined the Air Training Corp (a youth organization which is part of the Royal Air Force).  There, I was finally able to realize my dream of flying – first in an open cockpit glider then in a small single engine trainer plane.  I can still recall donning the parachute and flying helmet prior to ascending to fly over Southwest England where we performed some aerobatics that had me looking “up” at the earth.  I was hooked!

In the years since then I have taken to the sky in commercial jet liners, in a closed cockpit sailplane over Stone Mountain, GA, in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley, CA and para-sailing over the Gulf of Mexico in Destin, FL.  Give me the opportunity and I’ll take to the sky in a heartbeat.  One item, high on my bucket list, is to fly in an open cockpit biplane – but when I get up there I may not want to come back down!

So, while I’m grounded I love to immerse myself in tales of flying – a holdover from those old Biggles days (and yes, I have a couple of Biggles on my bookshelves including the one shown above).  Among the authors who have fueled my imagination are Beryl Markham of “West With The Night” fame who was the first to fly solo from Europe to North America, Charles and Anne Lindberg who both wrote of their flying in “The Spirit of St. Louis” and “North To The Orient”, Rinker Buck who wrote of his transcontinental flight as a teenager with his brother in the small plane, Richard Bach (best known for “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull”) who was a USAF pilot and wrote extensively of his various flying experiences including a summer as part of a barn-storming troupe with his Stearman biplane, Richard Halliburton the remarkable adventurer who (among his many books) wrote “The Flying Carpet” recounting his fantastic exploits and my favorite of them all, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (best known for “The Little Prince”).  A lot of his flying experiences were expressed in his novels but the classic of all his aviation writing has to be “Wind, Sand and Stars” – a collection of essays wherein he recounts his experiences as a pioneering pilot for Aeropostale carrying the mail deep into the heart of the North African Desert and across the vastness of Patagonia in South America.

As both an accomplished pilot and author his prose is unsurpassed for its beauty as it relates to flying.  Let me share just a brief portion:

“A minor accident had forced me down in the Rio de Oro region, in Spanish Africa.  Landing on one of those  table-lands of the Sahara which fall away steeply at the sides, I found myself on the flat top of the frustrum of a cone, an isolated vestige of a plateau that had crumbled round the edges…Without question, I was the first human being ever to wander over this . . . this iceberg; its sides were remarkably steep, no Arab could have climbed them, and no European had as yet ventured into this wild region.
I was thrilled by the virginity of a soil which no step of man or beast had sullied.  I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken.  The first star began to shine, and I said to myself that this pure surface had lain here thousands of years in sight only of the stars.
But suddenly my musings on this white sheet and these shining stars were endowed with a singular significance.  I had kicked against a hard, black stone, the size of a man’s fist, a sort of moulded rock of lava incredibly present on a bed of shells a thousand feet deep.  A sheet spread beneath an apple-tree can receive only apples; a sheet spread beneath the stars can receive only star-dust.  Never had a stone fallen from the skies made known its origin so unmistakably.
And very naturally, raising my eyes, I said to myself that from the height of this celestial apple-tree there must have dropped other fruits, and that I should find them exactly where they fell, since never from the beginning of time had anything been present to displace them.
Excited by my adventure, I picked up one and then a second and then a third of these stones, finding them at about the rate of one stone to the acre.  And here is where my adventure became magical, for in a striking foreshortening of time that embraced thousands of years, I had become the witness of this miserly rain from the stars.  The marvel of marvels was that there on the rounded back of the planet, between this magnetic sheet and those stars, a human conciousness was present in which as in a mirror that rain could be reflected.”

On days like we’ve been seeing recently when the sky is clear and the mildest of breezes ruffles the fresh green leaves of Spring, the sound of a small plane flying overhead automatically draws my eyes upwards and my breath catches a little as I place myself in the cockpit beside the pilot and gaze out at the broad landscape spread out below and the blue horizon that awaits exploration.

We are earth-bound creatures but how we long to fly like the birds.