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On March 17, 1975 - a wet, drizzly, Pacific Northwest day -I boarded a 747 bound for England. It was my first trip on a plane, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. We'd had a very soggy spring that year, and the persistent clouds hung low over the city. What happened over the next 10 minutes was unforgettable to me. As we lifted off from the runway, we entered the wet mist almost immediately. The dim cabin became even darker for a few brief seconds as we climbed through the swirling layers. And then... it happened. The windows of the plane suddenly lit up like spotlights as we emerged into the bright, glorious sunshine. A wet, murky day had sunk out of sight, and there was nothing above but deepening blue sky. I liked this "flying" thing.

For the rest of the trip, my eyes were glued to the window, trying to take in the incredible view from 35,000 feet. I have one picture from that day showing the sun setting as we soared above northern Canada. I keep this picture because it reminds me of when my dream started.

At the end of our flight as we stepped toward the exit, I stuck my head in the cockpit and was mesmorized by a staggering number of switches, lights, controls, and gauges. Pilots were my new heroes. The next few years had me dreaming about flying. It wasn't just the experience of lifting off the ground and soaring through the air above clouds and rain. It was also the whole traveling experience. I will never forget the excitement of waiting to board the plane, and that special feeling that I was going away to a far distant land.

In the fall of my sophomore year, my friend received flying lessons for his 16th birthday. I was so envious! His family was well-off, and the likelihood of me receiving a similar gift from my parents was not even worth hoping for. I inquired about the pricing, then soon found a job washing dishes at a local restaurant. Each week I earned enough for a 1-hour flight with the instructor. It was slow going, but I had a goal and I just knew I'd achieve it. A year later, I took my checkride and received my private pilot's license.

Nehalem Bay, OR - 1978

I spent the next couple years flying with my friends around the Northwest. We often went to the Oregon coast with the occasional foray up into Washington. Here's me at Nehalem Bay on the Oregon Coast when I was 16. That's a Cessna 152 which is primarily what I trained in.

The cost began getting expensive as gas prices rose, and my last summer of private pilot flying occured after my freshman year of college. I came back from school and got a job pumping gas and washing airplanes at a small airport near home. After work, I could check out a plane and fly around the area. It was a good life.

Three more years of ROTC training in college led to a pilot training slot with the Air Force in Mississippi. I had a bit of an advantage having flown before, but it was an extremely demanding program and there were so many aspects to it. The intense pressure to perform both in the air and in the classroom was felt by each of the student pilots in ever-increasing doses. With a 50% washout rate, none of us was sure who would be next to leave the program. Each day would involve physical training, classroom instruction, and flight time. Evenings were spent studying until we fell asleep, exhausted. Okay, there was a little bit of a party atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights, but by Sunday night we felt the gut-wrenching reality of another impending week on the flight line.

To make a long story short, I graduated from pilot training and was assigned back to the Northwest to fly heavy aircraft. It was very satisfying to fulfill a life-long dream. And 15 years after my first flight as a passenger on that 747, I piloted a large aircraft back to England myself. As I flew through the night, I thought about that wide-eyed, young boy staring out the window high above the Arctic so many years ago.


This page designed by John Burt.  

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