I have a passion for driving. When I was five, I taught myself how to ride a two-wheel bicycle, and I have the permanent scar on my lip to prove it. At ten I careened a dozen times daily down a steep hill, sometimes on my red ball-bearing skateboard and sometimes on skates.
As I grow older, it is getting harder to find new vehicles to take for a spin. The first time I drove myself through Manhattan, it was behind the wheel of a 14-foot truck loaded with my furniture. I have snowmobiled, motor-boated, sailed and jet-skied. The Amalfi Coast and Autobahn were no match for me. In my thirties I learned to drive a stick shift. In my forties I learned to drive a golf ball. Recently I won a trip to gorgeous Northern Ireland. With the stick and my passenger both on my left and the cars coming towards me on the right, we took in over 600 miles of mountains and hills, coasts, towns and busy cities. Were there any driving challenges left for me to conquer?
Gulp. I was invited to learn how to fly a plane! “Yes,” my mouth said on “auto-pilot,” but my stomach said something else. As the August date approached, I admit that a small part of me hoped for a hurricane, but when I woke up and saw the bluest sky of the year, I had no choice but to hop in my car and head for Cross Keys Airport in Williamstown, New Jersey.
All of the anxiety of anticipation was energy wasted because once I met my capable instructor, Dave Burton, there was no fear. My instruction started with a thorough tour of the four-seated Cessna and its safety features. Before long we were up, up and away. It’s simple, Dave said: “Blue is up and green is down. Blue sky and green earth, that is.” We both had a wheel and pedals that moved in tandem. I was stunned to find that I had been steering the plane for several minutes before realizing it. “Why are you turning right?” I asked meekly. “I’m not, you are,” Dave replied. I looked at him and his hands were on his lap. “Uh, can I turn left?” I asked. “Go for it,” said Dave. A slight touch of the wheel and we were banking left. Just below was the small town of Bridgeton. A few minutes later and we were over Vineland. “Point the nose at the horizon, Sheree.” “Uh, ok. Piece of cake.” This was even better than the dreams I had when I was small, the ones that had me touring the world like a bird. Speaking of which, an elegant black hawk soared near the plane. “Hey, I’m one of you,” I wanted to say. “Now start turning right again, Sheree,” said Dave. “Philadelphia airspace is just two miles to the left,” and I knew that two miles could be traversed in just one minute at our speed of 120 mph. Before turning I saw the beautiful Philly skyline in the distance.
Flying a plane makes you feel like you should feel—like there is nothing you can’t do. Yet it’s actually much easier than driving a stick shift through Belfast. The plane handled like a boat when on the ground and like a car when in the air. I learned and saw so much and felt empowered. For less than $200 you can have the thrill of your life. I would suggest nearly everyone add this to their list of things to do before they die.
Am I going to try their Freefall Adventure Skydiving school next? Well, maybe the time for that really has passed for me, but one day I will have a Harley, and if anyone wants me to test drive a classic Corvette or Lamborghini, here I am!
Let’s Go Flying is a program that allows anyone, for a surprisingly reasonable sum of money, to get an hour of expert lessons while actually flying a small aircraft. This is a national program and not just confined to New Jersey. The new flight training initiative of the nonprofit Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, LetsGoFlying.com is a valuable resource for anyone who may be interested in learning to fly. Just have fun for an hour or learn how to become a pilot. eThe website includes AOPA’s database of flight schools across the country, many of which offer steeply discounted introductory flights.