I grew up watching bi-winged crop dusters spread DDT across the tops of cotton fields in Louisiana.
Daring pilots, dodging tree lines and power lines, attacking boll weevils and bugs . They were in a war against nature. Flying twenty five feet above the row crops, if that much. A sight to behold. It was something I wanted to do.
I saw this little airplane flying in circles. It was about two miles away. You don’t see small planes as you used to see. They disappeared like 45 rpm records.
I was in my truck, headed west on a country blacktop road. I was going to town. I needed a sack full of nuts and bolts for my shop.
The plane was flying to the north. It turned a half circle, until it headed south. I’d say the pilot was about two thousand feet high. I watched the plane climb higher for a minute. By then, I was less than a mile away. I pulled over to watch. Every little boy likes watching airplanes fly.
It’s nose was pointed nearly straight up, then it stopped and wiggled it’s wings a bit.
The plane looked like it was about to fall from the sky.
It didn’t. As the pilots say “he recovered.” The nose came down, the plane picked up speed and was flying again.
I watched the airplane repeat the turn, repeat the climb skyward, repeat the “about to fall from the sky,” part again. I smiled.
Somewhere up there was a student pilot, maybe flying solo or with an instructor. He, or she, was learning how to fly.
Pilots call it a stall. It’s simple and it’s valuable. You put the plane in a slow climb, maybe like you’re just taking off, then you increase the climb, like you want more altitude. The wings stop flying and stall. The engineers call it a “loss of lift.”
It scares the daylights out of you. Then it’s a fun thing to do.
Many years ago, I learned how to fly. It was a dream come true. I couldn’t believe what all I had to learn. I realized when I soloed that first time, there would be no one sitting beside me. No one to take control. No one to save me.
Later, I had a license in my pocket. I walked out on the tarmac, walked around the plane, looking for trouble. I climbed in, looked for more trouble. Then, I checked and set the instruments to “go.” It was simple, I pointed the propeller into the wind and said “gettyupgo!”
One of my dreams came true.
I watched the kid in the airplane. Sorry, I’m seventy, most all of you are kids today.
I thought about how he’s scared, learning to be safe. Or, he’s learning what the airplane will do. I remember an instructor telling me, don’t be afraid. The plane wants to fly. Let the plane do what it’s designed to do.
That same instructor told me there are three things you don’t need if you’re going to fly an airplane. First is gas on the ground second is runway behind you and third is too much sky above you. He also said there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but you can’t find old, bold pilots.
Fifty years later, I still remember.
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