flying, Road Trip, The World A to Z, travel

The Sky and Stars Beckon

Editor’s Note: This post was written May 5, 2020

Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 (NASA Photo)

On this date in 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space when his Redstone rocket-powered Mercury capsule Freedom 7 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. My mother has told me on numerous occasions that she took me outside our home near Orlando to watch the lone astronaut rise toward the heavens, as history was made. 

I was six-months old to the day … too young to have remembered that moment. But I’ve always wondered whether that solitary act sparked my life-long passion for aviation and space travel. I remember my first commercial airplane trip a few years later — an Eastern Airlines trip from Atlanta to Orlando in a Lockheed Electra. I also remember when my best friend’s grandfather took me on my first flight in a small general aviation airplane — a short trip in a Piper Tri-Pacer when I was about 8 or so. That flight forever planted the seed to learn to fly, which actually happened some 25 years later. A few years later, I was sweating the moment when I finished my FAA-mandated check ride that would determine whether I’d be certified to fly on instruments (I passed). I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong planted the first steps on the moon … and the moment I heard on the radio about the Challenger disaster. 

Just today, someone on Facebook posted a video of a place nearby where I could get my seaplane rating … sparking the urge to, once again, combine my love of flying with water. These moments are like signposts along a seemingly never-ending road of aviation and space travel experiences that I hope, one day, might ultimately involve the ability for me and you to actually travel in space.

Greg and Judy take off from Charlottesville, VA airport in Sept. 2017

Long-time readers know my love for road trips, but also appreciate my continued love of air travel. To me, the journey is just as important as the destination. Despite all the hassles with commercial air travel today (Pre-COVID) — the lines, security, crowds, etc. — it’s still worth it to look out the window at the world below. I’d rather follow our route on my laptop using an aviation app, trying to identify cities, lakes, rivers and other landmarks, than watch a movie or read a book. Get work done?  Fuggedaboudit. 

Always a window seat for me!

All of us feed our wanderlust in different ways.  Some like cruises, some can’t stand boats. Some like to hike and climb, some like to sit on a beach where the only exercise involves lifting a cocktail from table to mouth. Some are in it for the sights, some for the tastes of fine food and wine. And that’s really the point … focus on whatever drives YOUR passion for travel and feed off that. Do what YOU want to do, don’t be led by what others think you should enjoy.

Me, I keep looking at those lone contrails in the sky and dream of the next flight … to wherever it may lead. Because there’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. I’ll be the one with the window seat, nose pressed to the glass, looking at the ground below, and to the stars above.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, flying

America Strong!

For those of you who love a good window-rattling, heart-stopping jet flyover, you’re surely missing your favorite summer air show. The US Air Force Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels, our nation’s premiere military aerial demonstration teams have both cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Don’t go to their websites to learn this, though. They seem to be ignoring them and keeping everything up-to-date on social media – specifically Facebook (the links above are to the Facebook pages to save you some search time).

That’s the bad news. The good news is, you can still get your jet-whine-screaming-turn-and-burn fix if you’re close enough to one of MANY cities across the nation. 

The two teams, in an exceptionally rare act of cooperation, conducted joint practices recently over the Gulf of Mexico … near the home of the Blue Angels … in preparation for a national tour. They are calling it “America Strong.”

According to the Department of Defense: “In a show of national solidarity, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will conduct a series of multi-city flyovers over the next two weeks. America Strong is a collaborative salute from the Navy and Air Force to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tuesday, April 28, they kicked their tour off with a flyover of New York City and the Trenton/Philadelphia areas. The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels aren’t posting the full schedule because this is a tribute situation and they don’t want people traveling and gathering together to see the salute, but if you keep an eye on your local media, you’ll find out if you’re in (or near) their path.

US Air Force F-35s fly over the desert near Luke Air Force Base.

If you’re not near one of their scheduled cities, but you live near an Air Force or Navy Base, you may still get a tribute flyover. We live near Luke Air Force Base and the Phoenix area is getting a flyover with F-16s, F-35s and even a KC-135. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be seen, sometimes you gotta look up, plug your ears and feel the rattle of your bones as the Sound of Freedom shakes you to the core.

Photos courtesy of the United States Air Force and the United States Navy

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, flying, The World A to Z, travel

That One Afternoon Contrail

Blue skies always make me look up. I love to feel the warm sun on my face, scan the skies for a hint of a cloud or two, and look for contrails.

Blue skies, no clouds … and no contrails.

Before the pandemic, contrails were everywhere. There are all kinds of commercial jets that fly over the desert where we live. There are small, private planes constantly humming overhead, practicing turns and stalls. We’re close enough to Luke Air Force Base that we occasionally hear the incredible sounds of military jets “turning and burning” as they conduct training flights and exercises. I LOVE that sound.

Those screaming jets seem to be flying a little less often now. I miss the heart stopping, thundering wail. So I look up to plain, stunning, blue skies. No contrails anywhere — most of the time.

I say most of the time because every afternoon, somewhere around 1:30 – 2:00, we look up and see the tell-tale contrail of a BIG plane. Something with four engines is flying the same path everyday. It’s too high to tell what it is, but you can just make out the four lines of condensation leaving their vapor trail in the atmosphere.

We’ve speculated it’s a military cargo jet carrying something important from east to west. Maybe it’s a commercial jet, loaded with properly socially distanced passengers headed to San Francisco or Hawaii … or even further west. 

Is it an eye and eyebrow?

We aren’t flying anywhere, so it’s kind of fun to look up and imagine where that plane is headed, who’s on it and what their stories are. I used to do that as a kid – wonder the who, what and where of planes flying overhead. I guess until the pandemic restrictions are lifted I’ll continue dreaming about flying somewhere. What the heck, maybe I’ll even try to find shapes in the clouds while I’m looking for contrails.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored even if you have to explore it in your imagination.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, flying, Musings, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Trains, travel

Wanderlust, Moving and A World of Change

A friend from high school recently moved to a new home. It was one of several she’s made in recent years. She and I are very alike that way. In the past eight years I have had six homes. That’s six full-scale, move-everything-you-own-to-a-new-place homes. 

In fact, we grew up that way … the two of us and thousands of other kids known as “military brats.” Vikki, who also an author, and I had Air Force dads, but others had dads and moms who were soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and women. We moved often and, from an early age, learned to expect and even embrace the change that comes with a new home, new friends, a new school and a new lifestyle.

I suspect that my childhood and the following time on active duty are big parts of the reason I have such strong wanderlust. I CRAVE new places and new things to see and do. I long to pack a few things into a bag and go somewhere I’ve never been. I strike up conversations with strangers … sometimes with strangers who don’t even speak English.

If you are a fellow traveler, you probably have many of the same feelings. When people ask, “where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” you simply have no way to answer. There are too many “best places” to pick one. 

My husband grew up in one town for the most part. But something in him is excited about travel, too. I’d like to believe I had something to do with that by taking him with me on several adventures early in our relationship. We’ve been on trips by road, air, rail, river, even horseback. We’ve hiked, biked, snorkeled, soared and sailed. And we’re not even close to done! 

It seems for every trip I take, I add two more to my bucket list. An insatiable desire to travel consumes me. I feed it and it grows like a weed. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … I just can’t seem to get enough.

PS … thanks for the inspiration, Vikki!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, flying, Musings, Trains, travel

Travel … or Escape?

I am a writer and travel is my muse. Almost every time I board a plane or a train or even get into a car for a road trip my mind begins to work up some sort of story or thought. I have napkins full of scribbled thoughts. I have filled the margins of the magazines in the seat pocket. I even used an airplane “barf bag” once or twice to get my thoughts down on paper.

Flying soothes me. It’s uninterrupted time with my thoughts. No calls, texts, emails, Facebook, work, or any other distractions from time with myself. I read a bit, write a bit, and doze a bit. But, most of all, I enjoy the time to just think.

Sometimes my thoughts wander to my destination, perhaps something or someone I want to see when I get there. I’ve gazed out the window and written about something I could see — the sun rising above the clouds (or setting), the patchwork of fields below, the blur of trees as my train passes through a woodland.

Ahead of our trips, Greg and I always talk about what we plan to discuss in the air, instead we end up comfortably retreated into our own personal head spaces, while holding hands or leaning on each other. The fluffy bed of clouds outside the window evokes relaxation … literally thoughts of floating on a cloud. I love flying for that reason. Even when I’m headed somewhere I‘d rather not be, I find myself in a peaceful, contented cocoon of quiet. Airplanes don’t just take me to fun vacations; they take me above the heavy thoughts that surround me on the ground. Flying is an escape.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … escape sometimes!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

flying, Musings

Night Flight

We’ve been chasing the setting sun ever since takeoff. Even now, as we cross the Rockies, there’s a hint of dusk on the horizon.

The moonlit landscape below is magnificent. Snow and mountain make dappled patterns in the moonlight. Desolation all around, except for the occasional ranch or small town sitting in a valley below.

Even on this moonlit night, stars twinkle in the ink-black sky above. I am transfixed, unable to take my eyes off this wonder. But look away I must, for my neck is sore from turning my head toward my window on the world.

I watch the other passengers, heads down in their phones, on their laptops, some asleep. “Look outside, people!” I want to scream. There is beauty in the moonlight, but it is temporary. They have missed it. I have not.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it … at night.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Bucket List, Distractions, Diversion, flying, Road Trip, The World A to Z, travel

From Exes to Ohs

Greg and I make no secret of the fact that we are each other’s third wife/husband. One of the things we say is that it took three tries to get it right. It’s only half in jest. We both recognize that with age comes a self-awareness and comfort that makes it easier to know what you want … but more importantly, what you won’t put up with anymore.

Our exes didn’t travel, not like we do. Neither of them craved it. When we realized the intensity of our love of travel and experiences, it deepened our attraction for each other and our wanderlust. We went from camping and destination-based driving slogs to exploring downtowns and wandering on backroads. — from Friday and Saturday nights spent swatting bugs by a campfire to toasting friends at our local bar and snacking on brick-oven pizzas.

Pin Map
We mark the places we’ve been together, where we want to go, and where our friends hope to travel.

In my quest to see the world alphabetically, I went from being primarily focused on Europe because it’s the only place my ex would consider, to eyeing locations I’d never even imagined. As we look ahead to this year’s trip (we’re up to “O” in the ABC The World plan), we are excited to be taking our first cruise.

It’s a river cruise on the Danube. Yes, it’s back to Europe, but to the Eastern side. I have a map with pins of the places we’ve been; Eastern Europe is sadly almost entirely pin-less. (Colored pins on the map show where friends want to travel).

Europe map close up
Yellow pins are where we’ve been together. Colored pins represent our friends’ bucket list trips. The letters mark our “See the World A to Z” trips.

But we are not sitting around waiting for the cruise date in the fall. We continue to plan and explore and be amazed by our world. We have trips planned to Pittsburgh and its foodie scene, Arizona where our winter visit left us wanting more, and Minneapolis to check out the biggest mall in the US.

I joke that the only reason I have a job is to pay for my next trip, but it’s more truth than jest. I love that moment you see, taste, hear or feel something new. It’s an “Oh” moment for me. “Oh, wow, that’s beautiful!” “Oh, wow, that is delicious!” We’ve both gone from exes to ohs and we aren’t interested in slowing down. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go find your “Oh” moment.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2018

Distractions, flying, The World A to Z, travel

Flying is His Happy Place

Looking out at the world
I wake from a quick nap at 37,000 feet and look over at Greg. He’s in his happy place — the window seat this time. We take turns because we both love looking out the window as we fly.  He doesn’t see me looking at him. He is turned away; his face is pressed against the window pane like a small child looking into the window of a candy shop.
After a moment, he turns slightly and looks down at his iPad. He’s got flying charts for the entire US open and he’s following our flight … making a note of airports, private runways, landmarks and anything he can match between his view and the chart in his lap.Sky is the Limit
He notices I am awake and looking at him and breaks out into a grin. It’s a smile that says a thousand things: Good “morning;” Thanks for flying with me; Thanks for giving me the window seat; I love this whole experience. We say these things to each other all the time. On this particular occasion, I just smile back and ask, “where are we?”
He knows right away and points out a river and a small runway. Off in the distance is Oklahoma City. The skies are clear and the view spreads out for miles in every direction.
J&G Flying
 
This flight is no different from others. We both love to fly. The majesty of the world spreads out below. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a commercial jet at 37,000 feet or in a Piper Arrow at 6,000 feet. There are always marvelous things to see.
He turns back to the window with a childlike sense of curiosity as I reach for my novel. Flying is his happy place. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … find your happy place.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2018

flying, Uncategorized

Why I Fly

From my earliest days, I wanted to fly.

Clipper

As a youngster, I was fortunate to fly commercially before airliners became nothing more than airborne buses and coats and ties were de rigueur. Flights in Lockheed Electras, Convair 440s, Boeing 707s and DC-8s had me glued to the window as the earth fell away during takeoff. Back then, cockpit tours for kids were a must, and the stewardesses (as they were called then) ALWAYS had wing pins for their young passengers.

Balsa wood, tissue paper and dope models followed, as did subscriptions to every flying magazine I could get my hands on. Dad took me to airshows at Pt. Magu where I saw the incomparable Bob Hoover in his Aero Commander Shrike perform a complete aerobatic routine with both engines silent.

My best friend’s grandfather took us up for a ride in a Piper Tri-Pacer out of Van Nuys airport and later a Piper Apache; his dad took us up in a Cessna 310 … the stage was set.

N5749E

But priorities changed.  Sailing, then cars and girls in high school, more sailing in college and a first marriage kept my aviation dreams at bay. But then in 1993, the planets aligned and an opportunity presented itself that was simply too good to pass up … a close friend had an opportunity to buy an old Cessna 150 for $9,000 – a bargain! – did I want in?  Absolutely!  Another friend had just received his Certified Flight Instructor certificate and would train me in exchange for the flight time.  Deals were made, checks written and the airplane was ours.

My logbook tells the story.  My first lesson was on April 6, 1993 in a Cessna 172 when we went to pick up the plane.  Mike flew it back. I soloed just three months later with only 18 hours logged!  I passed my private pilot checkride on March 21, 1994.  Bigger and faster airplanes followed and in December 2001, I passed the checkride for my Instrument Rating.

It all stopped in 2003.  I moved east and when the promise of a new job failed to materialize the finances to fly just weren’t there, and then life ensued.  The dream faded but never went away.  A new, but short-lived job with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association threw new sparks on the fire, but my then-wife wasn’t a flyer … it wasn’t a priority.

Fast forward to 2012 when the woman of my dreams enters my life … and she wants to fly!  Judy not only supported my dreams, but wanted her dreams of flight to be realized.  For a wedding present, I got her a logbook of her own and an introductory lesson.  On a cold day in January, I watched her take off for the first time at the controls.  Later that summer, I, too, was back in an airplane with a new medical certificate in hand and an instructor putting me through the flight review paces.  It took a few flights – I was definitely rusty, but it all came back and my instructor signed me off.  I was back in the air!Checklist

J&G Flying

A week ago, I was again signed off by an instructor to fly one of my favorite airplanes, a Piper Arrow, and later this year, I hope to regain my Instrument Rating currency. In the meantime, Judy and I are planning many flights together.

Today is National Aviation Day…a day to celebrate why we fly and our nation’s long history of flight. I am incredibly thankful to live in a country that affords me this opportunity…but it is an opportunity that is being put at risk by Congressional legislation to privatize our Air Traffic Control system. This move will make private aviation too costly for all but the richest folks and put control of ATC in the hands of the airlines that do NOT have your interests at heart. Thousands will lose their jobs and critical infrastructure served by general aviation will be lost.

If you have ever, even once, thought about taking a flying lesson, enjoyed a scenic flight, taken a flight with a friend to another airport for a “$100 Hamburger,” I ask you to do two things:  1) Write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them to Modernize, not Privatize, our ATC system, and 2) Book a flight with an instructor TODAY and see for yourself what joy flying brings!  If you need some advice, contact me…I’m always happy to talk flying.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored…see it from the front seat!

Short Final

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017