Flying need not involve wings or ailerons or a runway. You can fit comfortably in the cockpit of your own mind. Makes no difference if you’re flying high enough to reach the clouds or if you’re fueled and flying high on alcohol, you’re still flying.
A friend relayed this story one Saturday night as the fireplace crackled and the first winter snow fell. It involved a freshly cracked open bottle of bottom shelf bourbon, a Pioneer turntable and a stack of classic viynal. He said “Imagine if you will, a man with the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Unable to discern the threshold between the here and the hereafter. His choice of fuel, a mixture of airplane jet fuel and a bottle of 151 rum.” In the case with this man the phrase, what goes up must come down does not ring true.
The gauges are all dark though I can see a reflection from the lot lights in the glass face plates. The switches have a feeling of newness to the touch, smooth and fresh. I can switch on the cabin light to see the markings under each switch, but it’s all dark except for the lot lights illuminating the upper half of the cockpit.
The pilots’ seat is comfortable and almost form fitting. It’s a good feeling while on the ground and also once up in the air, it gives you the feeling the plane is cradling you in her arms. Keeping you safe as you leave the comfort and stability of mother earth. Why do we pilots leave the solid ground to climb up to touch the ceiling of clouds only to find they are nothing more than an elaborate illusion. The props will chop right through the condensation like it was a figment of your imagination all along.
Is there something calling us to come explore an airspace not yet inhabited? Or do we fly because it’s just another form of transportation. From point A to point B and back.
I could if I wanted to, apply power to this panel. Warm up the glow plugs and watch as the propellers turn slowly at first. Once the fuel is ignited I’d see the RPM’s increase till the temperature reached the correct level. The twin engines would synchronize and produce a comfortable hum. Then I could release the brakes and move forward to the beginning of the runway and upon throttle up I’d gain enough speed to give these wings to the air and rise above the sleeping town with it’s cookie cutter houses. The American dream, most containing swimming pools in finely manicured back yards. I’d rise above main street and broadway with it’s shops and theaters, it’s restaurants and bars.
I could because I’ve flown this twin engine Beechcraft KingAir. Not by myself but with an instructor. I’m a student still working toward my pilots license. I wouldn’t jeopardize my chances of getting my certificate so I’ll just sit in the cockpit and have a drink or two.
The soda machine is just outside the airport office and it lights up the darkened cement in an arc around the machine. The glow can be seen from a long distance. Surprisingly enough it took my money and in return gave me my selection with no hiccups and no questions asked. I didn’t have to hit the machine even once to coax it into giving up the goods. From my freshly opened bottle of 151 and a cold soda, I took a drink from the bottle and then chased it with a sip of soda and felt the fire as it traveled from my tongue to my toes. With a little less in the can now I poured some rum in to get a better mix.
Feeling warmer, I hit the main power switch and flipped on the radio. It was tuned to an old classic rock station, but I kept it at a low volume. It’s just me and the plane and the rum and now the rock music has joined the party.
The fuel gauge reads full and that always gives me a warm fuzzy to know the tank is full.
After a few more sips I poured a little more rum in the can and began once again to feeling the heat as it sliding down my throat while my whole body slips into a warm pool of liquid pain reliever.
I could fly this plane. I could fire this baby up and bring her out onto the runway and up, up and away and I’m gone. They wouldn’t even know I took off with this plane until tomorrow morning when the airport opens up for business.
I need another soda.
I took another swallow of the 151 and a sip from the new can of soda. It wasn’t as bad as the first time but a third of the bottle is gone now, so it’s no wonder I can almost drink this stuff straight. One more big swallow of soda and I’m able to fill the can back up with rum.
Brakes are on, power is on, the red glow plug light just extinguished. Gauges are all on. The rudder moves, the flaps respond. The start button is stiff but the props begin to turn and the pop-pop-pop of the engines begins to fire off in rapid succession.
The engines and props are running smooth as I watch the temperature gauge beginning to climb.
I could take this baby up and be back before they opened up in the morning. I could just fly around the town or maybe fly south to the next town just to see what it looks like at night. I’d be back before they even know I’m gone.
At half a can I shut down the engines and topped off the soda with the 151 and pondered the situation. Who knows maybe I will just take her up for a quick spin, I thought. I know how to fly this plane, I’ve flown her many times with my instructor and besides I’m always the one flying, he’s just sitting there watching. I haven’t made any mistakes in several of my personal lessons. So what would be the big deal if I took her up myself? Isn’t that how we learn? We either sink or swim?
I shut her down, but left the main power on so I could keep the rock music going. I may not have been walking in a straight line but I did manage to get to the soda machine and back so I poured out some of the soda and emptied the rum into the can and just sat there admiring the cockpit of this beautiful KingAir. It’s the feeling you get when you step aboard a Hans Christian Ketch. This plane reminds me of SkyKing, with it’s twin engines.
I don’t remember if I finished the can or maybe I spilled it or I might have thrown it out of the window to the tarmac below.
I remember feeling a little fuzzy then I couldn’t feel my feet but I knew I had them on the peddles, I just couldn’t feel them. I started thinking maybe it was something I ate for dinner, but I couldn’t remember eating anything. Still, I felt like someone had put a great big rubber band around my chest and it became harder to breathe. With each breath the rubber band would get tighter, not much and barley noticeable but then as quickly as it came on, it just stopped. I closed my eyes for only a second and when I opened them the gauges were all illuminated. I looked at the fuel gauge and it was still full. I looked at the rudder and flaps and they responded even though I can’t remember taking hold of the stick.
I looked at the pushbutton switch for the starter and the propellers began to turn. I thought it a bit odd, it was like a dream. This time when I pushed on the throttle the props rose up in pitch and the brakes released to allow movement. I turned out to runway 2 and lined up with the centerline of the runway. The moon must have come out from behind the clouds. With the throttle up and speed increasing the wind under the wings smoothly lifted me and the aircraft up on a pillow of air. That was by far the smoothest take off I have ever encountered.
I watched as the lights passed by and sank off in the distance becoming smaller by the second. I thought to my self, I did it. I learned how to fly and flew off and left it all behind.
As the sun rose, the angle of shadow from the Beechcraft projected onto the tarmac an image larger than life. The lead maintenance mechanic, the first one there to begin the opening of the airport noticed the cabin light on in the Beechcraft parked at the far end of the inside hangers.
The newspaper headline read “Student Pilot Found Dead in Plane.”