Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Flock of Red, White ... and Blue

Celebrity if nothing else sometimes forces us to think. Exactly what we might be inspired to think about is of course totally subjective. But every so often the rarity intrinsic to fame itself can lead our thoughts to coalesce and focus. Today was that kind of day for me.

I've been trying to get on the flight schedule at least twice per week these days. If I'm lucky that means I get to fly once per week. This week I was very lucky, especially today. The windwas particularly strong this afternoon gusting to 20 kts. That's a bit too blustery for me to fly solo in. But it was perfect for me to practice crosswind technique with an instructor. Lately I relish the opportunity to practice flying in tricky situations. It both helps condition me against panic and improves my ability as a pilot on many levels.

Before going up this afternoon my instructor (Fax) pointed out that we had a famous guest visiting the airport. A very large Boeing 757 was doing touch-and-go's around the runway. What's so famous about a 757? Well there's one particular jet of this line that's about as famous as you can get. It was Air Force Two! Apparently they come down here to CHO to practice every so often.

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It was a majestic site to see such a large aircraft going around the traffic pattern. It also posed an additional challenge for me: wake turbulence. All the better. Practice is good and more practice is even better. Plus I felt privileged to be chasing and following Mr. Vice President's private plane.

It was a bouncy practice session. There's basically no way to be graceful when mother nature is tossing you around like a feather. But it's reassuring to know that you can actually fly in windy conditions. I'm learning that the trick is not to worry so much about which way the plane is pointed at any given moment. Easier said (mind) than done (nerves).

Wrestling with the wind proved somewhat exhausting. So after a big lunch and some strong coffee I went about the rest of my day; the back of my mind processing my flight instruction this morning, and over the last couple of weeks. There has been a distinctly "American" theme lately. In all likelihood, CHO's proximity to several air bases is the main reason I've been seeing so many military aircraft. Yet, I've been flying for more than a year and I can safely say that I've seen more in the past couple of weeks than ever before.

I've been flying with a few different instructors lately too. So I'm feeling very much like an adolescent child in some type of ancient tribe preparing for a rite of passage. As I think more on this notion of "tribe" it occurs to me that this is a special one indeed. I would even go so far as to say it's a distinctly American one. We did after all invent flight and thanks to our European cousins starting WWII we refined it to an amazingly fine point likely undreamed of by our ancestors.

I've waxed on about my national pride before. Too bad it's somewhat of a sensitive subject these days. I do not bear blind allegiance to the flag. Like some, I'm keenly aware of our shortcomings, vices, even our sins. It often makes me uncomfortable that I spend more money each month on cable internet (or flight lessons) than some families in the world do on food for a year. In some sense the dream for me is that one day those with good fortune can and will share it with everyone else.

I love the notion of the global village. People talk about the transcendent experience of viewing earth from space. There's even an institute dedicated to the idea. But like it or not we haven't gotten there yet. Nationhood seems to both consistently and regularly stand in the way of a planetary family.

So until then I take some joy in being part of a somewhat smaller tribe. Or more appropriately perhaps I should say a flock.

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I managed to get my iPhone out just as these geese flew overhead the other day. Let's hope they bring warmer weather in their wake.

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