Full Circle Flight Lessons

My body is being shaken about, but it’s a perfect day. It has to be. With nothing more than a warm breeze, the cloudless sky is safe. 

I loosen my grip on the yoke, reminding myself it's better to be gentle to avoid over correcting. None of that matters right now; we’re still on the ground. I’m driving the brakes hard into the floor, clenching with my toes as if I’ve just narrowly avoided a car accident. 

“Do you want to do comms?” 

Daniel’s only a few inches from me, but between the roar of the engine and my nerves, it's like I’m completely alone until his voice comes through the headset. 


“Do you remember what to say?”

I’ve been repeating the phrases over and over in my head—who we are, where we are, what we want—like I’m trying to order something in a new language on vacation.

I take a gulp of air, as if surfacing from a churning wave, before fumbling for the radio button.

“Santa Monica ground, this is Skyhawk 974 Tango Alpha. Run up. Taxi to runway via bravo.”

Without taking my eyes from the tarmac, I see Daniel give a thumbs up. I slump into the seat like I’ve just dropped a huge weight and listen for the tower’s response. 

The first time I went up in a small plane I was so young the memory feels more like a dream. There was an airshow in my small town. My mother, who hesitated to let me cross the street until I had a driver license, signed the waiver to let me board a single-engine plane with a stranger. I fell in love with the experience, but she told me flying was too expensive. 

Too expensive the definitive end to many childhood ambitions. Each time I lock up my bike at the airport, the rush of anticipation mingles with the shame of feeling so bourgeoisie.

Ground control gives us the go ahead. As I reach for the throttle to power full, I glance down at Daniel’s worn through Vans. We’re the generation that can’t afford mortgages because we’ve tried avocado toast. Yet, I know we’ve both skimped on other things to be here. At my last lesson, we talked about surfing. Daniel told me he found his wetsuit in the trash. My skin crawled as I nodded in understanding. 

Then we’re holding short of the runway. I’m scanning the east for planes like a dedicated birdwatcher. As we gain speed on the runway, I clumsily steer with the rudder pedals. My feet feeling like they’re off beat learning a new dance. The plane jerks left and right as I struggle to keep us on the center line. The speed ticks up 40...45...50. 

The needle hovers just below 55 like a kid testing how close you can get to the line you’re not supposed to cross.  It's like I’m on the starting blocks at the beginning of the race. My pulse is rising. I’m ready for what’s next. 

The needle hits 55, and I spring to action. With my fingertips, I pull back hard on the yoke. The wheels break from the pavement and everything is smooth. The world falls away like deep meditation. This is the feeling I do this for.

The laws of physics I had to memorize converge into a feeling. The plane is in sync with my movements. Dipping my left wing, I begin a 180 with the wing tip acting like the point of a top. My feet adjust the rudders, my right hand adjusts the power and trim, my left hand holds the yoke steady. I scan the instrument panel to maintain altitude, speed, and pitch. It's like juggling. 

More than that, it's freedom. The Pacific sparkles below and I get to see my home in entirety while being completely separated from it. It’s a vision that brings clarity with action. 

In my last phone call with my grandpa he asked about flying. When I told him my last few lessons had been canceled for weather or maintenance, it seemed like the most disappointing news he’d had all year. 

“I should have done that when I had the chance,” he'd said. 

I never knew when that was. I assumed when he was in the military. It definitely would have been too expensive. 

“You keep going with that,” he'd said.

Now I gladly accept his regret as my nheritance and justification. 



Emma J. Voight is an LA based consultant and aspiring adventurer. 

Categories: Airplanes, Pilots

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