I generally try to stay away from the really incredibly fascinating ‘here’s what I did today’ weblog thing, but I thought I’d introduce you to what will be an ongoing presence here at Eject! Eject! Eject! over the next five or six decades or so’
It was always my dream, from the age of 5, to fly fighter jets in defense of this country and then to take the next logical step and command the first Mars Mission. My left eye not being willing to fully cooperate in this venture (figures it was my left eye -‘ see how the left will do anything to crush an individual’s dreams and keep us from military action at any cost?) I wandered around for many years, finally falling into show biz -‘ shiver! -‘ mostly due to my association with regular commenter and gatekeeper Great Hairy Silverback back in High School. Blame him.
I took a few rides in a Cessna after I got the Hard News. It felt like riding in an old taxi, it smelled like vomit, and it had a steering wheel and the throttle was round knob that one might mistake for a cigarette lighter.
Many decades passed…
‘Okay, less than two, but it felt longer.
Then, while living in LA, I saw an ad for a glider ride for two in a newspaper. How romantic! I drove the victim out to the glider port -‘ almost three hours -‘ and as the little planes came into sight, as we turned the last corner she said, ‘You weren’t planning on taking me up in one of those, were you?’
Matter of fact, I was -‘ BUT! Since you feel that way, I suppose I’ll be forced — forced, I say! — to trade in this Romantic Ride for Two for the Top Gun Aerobatic Special.
And so, quite by accident, I found myself being strapped into a sharply reclining couch. There was a stick! There was a canopy! And best of all, there was no goddam propeller out in front of me to remind me that this wasn’t my personal jet fighter.
Yes, for the first time in fifteen years, a dim smile lit my features.
I was, as was common in those days, making next to no money at all, and so I started working at Crystal Soaring as Line Boss, making about $40 a day, launching and recovering gliders, but mostly raking rocks for the Commandant in the 125 degree sun.
However, it is still possible to achieve a dream in this country if you are willing to do the work, and so I have this picture to show you:
(I took a picture of a picture; hence the date stamp and the flare)
It was taken shortly after I set the solo record for that flight school, being launched Alone into the Great Unknown on’wait for it’July 4th, 1991. That led to many adventures. I think every pilot should be required to start in gliders. You never develop any false ideas about pitch and power (because there is no power), you learn how to fly the wing, you spend your entire day in a sixty degree bank 2 knots above a stall, you get one chance at every landing (so don’t f*ck it up, cadet!) and best of all, you learn that you don’t need an engine to fly the airplane, a gut-level advantage for the power pilot who may suddenly experience unnatural quiet where the engine noise used to be.
We wore parachutes and flightsuits because we were often in them for 6-8 hours at a stretch, and sometimes five or six of us would be hooking the same thermal, circling within half a football field, so the chance of a midair was not trivial; and the odds went up if you were an idiot. We did not wear them to look “cool” or “sexy” or to get comments from weak-kneed supermodels like “My God, that is a handsome and daring Steeley-Eyed Missile Man!” It had nothing to do with that whatsoever.
The ‘chute made a good cushion, that’s all… honest!… and there were many times I could imagine wishing I was wearing one and exactly none where I could imagine wishing I wasn’t. And it’s the exact same flight suit I’m wearing on the right sidebar, thirteen years later. My theory is, the day you start buying bigger flightsuits is the day you start down a road that has no end.
This picture was taken during that amazing day I wrote about in COURAGE, by my friend Andy Holoubek in the twin Grob. Yes, that’s me in that tiny bathtub-with-wings.
Anyway, once you fly a canopy, a stick, and carbon-fiber wings, there is no going back. I’ve been flying Katanas and Eclipses:
(This was taken by our friend Recovering Liberal -‘ That is her duck. It’s been everywhere. Ask her.)
These are terrific trainers: stable, friendly, and a real pleasure to fly. But they are SLOW. And there’s the side-by-side thing’wimpy. Real pilots fly the centerline.
So, about a year ago, I get a letter from a guy named Richard Riley. He read COURAGE, and wanted to know if I’d like to go for a ride in one of these:
Unfortunately, it was the one on the bottom, but I’m here to tell you folks, it’s pretty damn close.
A year passes. Richard, now a very good friend, flew with me last Saturday to Denver to have a look at this:
It doesn’t have any engine or instruments, which is the only reason I can afford it. Well, that’s not the only reason. Believe it or not, the fellow who owned this offered to finance $9,000 for a complete stranger, without references or collateral, just on a handshake.
Yes, there are still people like that in the world. There is still hope for us all.
Fortunately, someone else was equally generous -‘ thank you, thank you, thank you, someone else! -‘ and after much Consultation and Pondering I decided to cave in to forty years of non-stop dreaming and I bought the airplane (technically, airplane parts) for my forty-fifth birthday, which is -‘ hey, today!
My business bank account reached seven figures for about a week there. When I say ‘seven figures’ I am including the two to the right of the decimal point.
It’ll take the better part of a year for me to be able afford the engine and instruments, but there’s a lot of work to do in the meantime. Get a good look at it, because there will be more than a few comparisons of the ‘Old and Busted / New Hotness’ variety. Until then, here is the obligatory experimental airplane picture, namely the delirious new owner making Vrroooom! Vrrooooooom!! noises:
Remember, the propeller is in the rear. I don’t ever see it -‘ the view out the front, with the canopy and military-style side-stick, is close enough to pretend there is no propeller at all. Actually, I wanted to put a small jet in it. Many convinced me this was suicidal; my compromise is to install a system that plays an ear-piercing jet start-up whine in my headset whenever I start the prop.
How does this make me feel? Well, 45 can start to feel old, but hey, for a guy who has his own airplane at 45 well, a guy like that would have to be considered ahead of the game, huh? HUH?
I’m glad we got that settled.
As I said, I try not to do the personal story thing too often, but I will share with you one final mawkish and maudlin sentiment, but only because it is true:
Two years ago, I can remember driving home at night thinking I was a man with a great future behind me. Somewhere, back there, I was sure that I had zigged when I should have zagged, and that I had missed the train. I’d been the boy genius who was going to do Big Things; now I was in my forties with not a damn thing to show for any of it.
That was before Eject! Eject! Eject!
Since then, I have received so many letters and kind comments that it leaves me speechless with gratitude. The idea that I might in some small way contribute to the defense of these ideals we hold so near to our hearts has lifted me up from that despair -‘ no other word for it ‘- and given me a pervasive sense of purpose and direction, not to mention overwhelming gratitude and a very deep and awesome pride.
Thank you all. You have saved my life. More than that, through your warm words and non-stop encouragement, you have given me back my voice ‘- which I had feared had gone and left me forever. For that I am eternally grateful.
So here’s a final picture of the Mysterious Author, taken on his forty-fifth birthday, staring into the mirror of the future…(hmnnn, “mirror of the future”; better write that one down:)
How do I feel? Well, Lileks was kind enough to compare me to my all-time hero, Captain Kirk’so all I can do is quote the man.