Observations from the Cockpit
Reality from a Higher Perspective
Four wings, fabric and lacing, steel, wood, rubber and wire; a handcrafted conglomeration of effort and hope; a personal creation, given life by designers and craftsmen; hardly the sort of thing you wear, but after squirming into the cockpit and buckling three straps of the parachute, seven for the seatbelt harness, and ratcheting myself tightly into the seat, I could easily forget where my body ends and the plane begins. I wear it. I am the software, the living part of a flying machine. Hit the starter, a lurch of the airframe, a belch of smoke, the staccato rhythm of idle power, a light push with my left hand, lean left or right on the rudder pedals and I move along the taxiway—faster than a walk, but no rush. The oil is still too cold, the machine not yet fully awake; stiff mechanicals from a long rest in the hangar. At the controls, I am the will of an as yet awkward flying prosthesis. Endowed with ungainly mobility, turning this way and that, watching the taxiway, listening to the engine, looking for things out of place, I hear the radio, watch the airport sky, and smile at the possibilities.
A few minutes later, with the oil at 120 degrees, the engine checks completed, the pattern cleared and the controls checked, I haven’t found any good reason not to go flying. On the runway, I carefully line up with its centerline. With its tail on the ground, a little wheel back there, rolling gamely along, the plane reposes looking skyward, as if anxious to get back into its element. This is all fine as a matter of style, but from my position in the middle, the up-ended nose blocks all forward view. Sitting there, ready to blast down the runway at a hundred miles an hour, I can’t see a darn thing in front of the plane. Imagine racing a car with the engine hood raised. Hoping the runway is clear of traffic and obstacles, and doing my best to go straight by looking to either side, I begin the takeoff run by simply extending my left arm. My left hand pushes the throttle forward, and huge torque is unleashed on the propeller. A simple action on my part and the Earth moves.
Brute power thunders around me, and vibrates through the airframe. The engine roars and shakes like some kind of enraged, supercharged tractor, the noise such that I sense vibrations and sound through my bones, like an exotic, overpowering wave. The plane feels alive, like a horse galloping under the saddle, except I look out from within a hurricane, surrounded in every sense with ferocious power. I am pressed into the seat.
A rather uncomfortable harness tightens my flesh from seven directions, holding me a bit painfully in a seat despite the fact that I am dangling upside-down. Light pressure on stick and rudder pedals, and the world revolves around me—I feel its gravity like an internal compass pointer, drawing my blood, my hair and cheeks like iron to a magnet—and I can put it anywhere. I hold the world in my hands, and play with it, like Atlas meets the Harlem Globetrotters. Putting on a bit of wood, steel and fabric, artfully composed, and I ascend Olympus.