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, 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

Inspiration Comes At the Strangest Times

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Why does flying always make me want to write? It’s odd, but soaring over this great nation at 34,000 feet stirs something in my brain that gets my poetic juices flowing.

Our co-pilot just welcomed us aboard and, uncharacteristically gave us the route with landmarks … between Cincinnati and Lexington … right over Louisville,  over St. Louis, just north of Albuquerque, then right over the Grand Canyon. I can’t help but dream of clear skies the whole way. Flying over the heartland, gazing down over the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before crossing the wintry gray Plains of the southern “amber waves of grain”.  They will be followed by the mysterious gray crevasses as we enter the west and peer into the depths of the Grand Canyon from our lofty aerie.

It’s all majestic and every bit “home.” Flying makes me feel American. It is hours over one great country. It is the epitome of freedom and adventure. It stirs my curiosity and reminds me how many things I still want to see. It is small towns, big cities and vast expanses of wilderness. It’s people headed to work, students off to classrooms everywhere, stay-at-home mom’s, the unemployed … every type of person imaginable.  It’s joy and sadness. It is everything and, somehow, up here in the air, it is nothing.

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Greg dozes comfortably next to me as the flight crew offers movie-loaded tablets for rent before beginning the first beverage service. A five hour  flight means we will get two runs of the drink cart. Our upgraded seats mean we can look forward to a snack box.  But the major draw is the view.  We take turns in the window seat and it’s my turn this time around.

As the captain suggested, I’ll lean back and enjoy the flight, after all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored (or at least viewed).

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017