Sunday, April 17, 2005

April 17, 1997

"Cambridge traffic, Cessna 704XX departing runway 34, left closed traffic, Cambridge."

It's a clear, chilly April morning in Minnesota. The air is still, the silence broken only be chirping birds and the sound of an idling airplane. The airport is quiet this morning, and the only person visible is a middle-aged heavy set man, carrying a headset and looking over his shoulder at the airplane turning around at the end of the runway.

That airplane is a little yellow-and-white Cessna 150. In it is only one person - only a kid really, having turned 16 today. He doesn't have a driver's license yet, and he's struggling through algebra. Painfully shy at times, he's had little luck with girls, but that's okay, because he has one true love already: flight. He's been slowly working towards this day for three years now, and it scarcely seems real to him that he sits in this airplane alone, the sole master of the machine.

He's only a boy and he knows it, but there is nobody in that right seat to help him now. He holds his fate in his hands, and it makes him pause as he lines the Cessna up on the runway. It reminds him of the hesitation that comes when about to jump into water from a tall cliff. I know what I need to do, but the price for negligence is high. He breathes a quick prayer - don't let me screw up! - and pushes in the throttle.

*** *** ***

That was 8 years ago today - my first solo. After that first exhillarating takeoff, I don't remember a lot about it except a feeling of immense pride and happiness as I shut down the engine 30 minutes later. I was happy that I was safe and didn't let my instructor down, plus the happiness I always felt when I got to fly. I was proud that I had just done a very adult thing, and done it well.

I look at my 16-year old brother, Josiah, and marvel at what I was able to do at his age. I was so young and had a lot to learn in both flying and life. But, looking back to that day, I can see the beginnings of who I was to become. That first solo marked a transformation, or perhaps a step in evolution. I'll always remember that day as one of my finest.