We rolled along the ground, the little wheels tossed about by the rough turf, then all of a sudden, the ground fell away and I was alone with Mr. Peters, my sixth-grade band instructor and the pilot of the small airplane that had just thrust us into the air. I was flying. Our seats were side by side, cramped by the plane’s small cabin. The sudden transition from slightly bouncing in my seat to gliding startled me, and I wondered for an instant what had happened. Then I saw that the nose of the aircraft turned skyward and I was going up.
We turned and flew over my friends back on the ground whose eyes were trained on the plane as if waiting for it to crash to the earth. I was nearly to the point of believing that’s what would happen until I felt myself pressed harder against the seat as the ground at the Hobart, Oklahoma, airport rapidly receded.
I had felt like that before. The first time I rode my bicycle with my dad running along side with his hand under the seat to hold me upright. Then one day I looked back and he was no longer there. I knew fear then. I knew I was going to topple over and hit the pavement and Mom would get mad at me for all the scrapes and cuts she would have to bandage.
But it took only a moment, that tiny slice of time when my mind blows through all of my emotions before I realized that I had not wrecked my bike and it seemed to be traveling forward on its own.
I looked through the windscreen at the solid blue before me, an expanse of nothingness. We were headed right into it. I leaned toward the window by my shoulder and watched the ground glide by beneath us, the trees as small as the ones on my train set, the roads mere gray trails across the ground, houses the size of matchboxes.
My fingers finally released their grip on the edges of my seat and I was aware of the smooth air flowing around us, the giant wings stretched out to the sides to catch it, floating, like in the swimming pool except without the water. The only difference was the vibration of the engine.
“What do you think?” Mr. Peters asked, looking at me with his cockeyed grin.
I wouldn’t have been aware of it at the time, but now I know that my eyes would have been as big as they were the first time I saw Susan Dougherty drop her pants. It was quite a shock for five-year-old boy to discover that girls were different from boys.
Soaring through the air for the first time was just about as big of a shock. Flying. I was really flying. Up in the air like the planes I saw pass over my house. And the big jets at the air shows held every year at the huge Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas. I loved planes. I had no less than 50 plastic models I had assembled and painted, on display in the hallway of our house in Hobart. I saved my allowance until I had enough to buy another kit, then it was off to McDonald’s Sporting Goods downtown to select my next project. I’m fairly certain I made a significant contribution to Mr. McDonald’s profit line. It might have explained the new car he had bought.
So, there I was, flying with Mr. Peters, aloft in a real plane. Just like the Air Force pilots in their big birds that zoomed around the sky. The exhilaration I felt that day was like a stencil pounded into my mind, its deep indentions never to vanish. Had I known more about sex then, I might have been challenged to think that flying was not the ultimate experience. But to an eleven-year-old boy that was infatuated with flying, nothing could have been better.
We landed all too soon and it was over. Or at least, the flight was. My mind was still floating up there with the clouds, banking and soaring over trees and roads and pastures, and if anyone was down there on the ground, he would be looking up and thinking to himself, “I wish I were up there.”