I was pondering what my first would be tonight and I was inspired to share about my love of aviation.
My father was serving in the Royal Air Force when I was born in Oxford in 1961. A year or two after that I had my first flight to Cyprus. Although I don’t recall that particular experience, it must have had an impression on me as I have been fascinated with flying ever since.
My birthday is September 19th and coincides with the Battle of Britain memorials. On an RAF station, that often includes various aerial displays, especially of the classic Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a pilot. I loved watching the aircraft taking off, landing, flying by. And the aerobatics teams like the Red Arrows, Blue Angels and Thunderbirds thrilled me each and every time I saw them.
Initially, I felt I wanted to be a fighter pilot. It wasn’t just the concept of flying one of those amazing machines, there was something dashing about the RAF pilot. Who can forget the WWI fly boys with their goggles and silk scarves? I wasn’t actually able to join the Air Force, which turned out to be a good thing as I’m a bit of a pacifist and bombing people just doesn’t fit.
I did get a shot at the controls of a Cessna a few years ago. I was living in Springfield IL and, after watching National Guard F4 Phantoms for too long, decided I wanted to get up in the air. We found a place at the airstrip and next thing you know, me and the ex are strapped in. I’m actually in the pilot seat and he said we’ll call it my first lesson. I was thrilled – she was white as a ghost. And, it was awesome! The instructor got us off the ground then let me play with the controls a bit. I was briefly tempted to sign up and get my pilots license albeit opted to defer for a later time.
I love watching aircraft to this day. I still wonder how something as big as a modern airliner can even get off the ground. When I get the opportunity, I love attending air shows and watching the classic and modern military birds do their thing. I still think the Spitfire was the best aircraft in history. Typical British ingenuity – slap a massive motor in a small airframe and dominate the skies. One of my favorite scenes in the Battle of Britain movie is where Goering visited a Luftwaffe squadron and asked the commander “What can I do to help improve your success against the British?” The commander replied “Give me a squadron of Spitfires.” Goering was rather upset.
The fable of carrots being good for your eyes actually came from this era. The British came up with the first operational radar for their aircraft and their night successes against the Luftwaffe dramatically increased. Trying to keep it a secret they spread the rumor that carrots were good for the eyes and the British pilots were eating many more of them.
One item on my ‘to live’ list is to be in the back seat of a fighter as it is catapulted off the deck of a carrier. Not sure who in my network has the creds to pull that off, but I’ll just hold the intention.
When we were stationed in North Germany in 1976, the primary aircraft was the Harrier Jump Jet. Watching a large jet take off and land vertically is an amazing thing. It’s hard to believe it made it’s debut in 1967 and for decades was the sole VTOL combat aircraft in the world.
My love affair with aviation continues to this day and, who knows, I may yet still get my pilot’s license. It just won’t be flying a MACH II, mega-G pulling semi-spaceship.
There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots.