This Summer I Got My Wings

Dr. Damayanthie Eluwawalage, Columnist

   This summer I got my wings. Inspired all my life by aviation and space, for so long it seemed like an impossible dream. Lately, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying new freedom, mobility and adventures as a new private pilot. My flying began when curiosity led me to a local airport, where I was promptly invited along to experience a flight lesson from the back seat of a four-seater, and it was nothing like my travels in airliners. The view was panoramic, and the sensations magical. Watching a flight lesson progress as a passive observer, I became excited by the approachable possibility that I could learn to fly myself.

   I began training with an introductory lesson on the basics of getting up in the air and back down again. Step by step, I learned not only how to operate small airplanes, but also discovered a new circle of friends who have helped and encouraged me throughout my initial training, and through the purchase and refurbishment of my first airplane.

   Buying an airplane entailed a lower investment than I made in my car, but there was so much more of a learning investment in comparison with getting behind the wheel to follow roads. I’ve learned how airplanes fly from the most elementary aspects. I extensively refurbished my airplane with the help of my mechanic through complete disassembly of the machine and installation of a new engine and electronics. With my flight instructors I’ve learned the fundamentals of controlling the airplane in three dimensions, and found a confidence in the techniques and technology that have so rapidly evolved in aviation science over the past century. With shores at every place on Earth and with ever-changing moods of weather, our great ocean of air is an astoundingly wonderful and open frontier, demanding respect for the weather but rewarding each well-planned and flown flight. I’ve learned the rules of domestic and international flight, and discovered the freedoms that only fliers know far exceed the limitations of air traffic.

   Flying is procedural. At the same time, it is much more liberating and serene than the more popularly familiar experiences of traveling by car. The sense of self-containment and security is much greater in an airplane, which came as a surprise to me. Now, when I compare experiences of driving with flying, I know that personal flying entails far fewer risks, aggravations and interruptions beyond my control. I choose my path on every flight, and in all three dimensions. I communicate with other fliers on local flights and with air traffic controllers on longer distance journeys. Fliers share a more sophisticated awareness of situations around them than we see each day on the roads as drivers. As aviators we learn to manage risks ourselves, and our dependence on the competency of others in traffic is another calmer world.

   Last month, I flew myself to give a presentation in western New York, and arrived relaxed and invigorated in a way that no meandering surface journey could with all the intrinsic traffic, signs, signals, and traffic police it could have afforded. Until you have seen this magnificent land from a light airplane, it is impossible to appreciate its full grandeur. Now that flying is a part of me, even on journeys with no destination in mind, a local flight is always the perfect and always-new escape from the tedium of usual life, ensnared by gravity. I encourage all who are curious to explore the liberating world to follow my instructor’s advice for the curious: “Get yourself to the airport —that’s where the airplanes are!”

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