From Above

To my Fellow Minnesotans:

You may be accustomed to seeing me tearing down local highways, impatiently cutting you off as I reach for my coffee and ringing cellphone at the same time, but I bet you weren’t expecting what happened this morning: I became an airborne menace.

Yes, that’s correct. ‘Fly an airplane’ has been checked off my life to-do list as of today, all thanks to Ray, Heather’s dad.

Ray, my dad, and I took off from a tiny airport in St. Paul and flew to a tinier airport in Red Wing. I had concerns about the possibility of piloting a small plane during wartime, but we were simply instructed to avoid the Pine Island nuclear plant and oil refineries. Or face a stern talking-to, I guess.

The plane was a Piper something-something that was smaller inside than my car. The seats weren’t heated, either. It’s owned by a local flying club, to which Ray belongs. They all get together once a month to eat hamburgers, drink beer, and wax the plane. There’s something so painfully cool about that.

Ray flies 747s for a living. Sometimes he flies old jets to the airplane graveyard in Roswell, New Mexico.

He gave me a full run-down of all the gauges and the proper takeoff procedure, which I promptly forgot. What I do remember was what to do if we crashed. It involved landing in a field, climbing out the top, and a rendezvous 50 feet in front of the downed plane. I figured that was the important part, since both Ray and my dad could cover for me if I sucked at the flying.

And, yes, I did fly the plane. For about 15 minutes, although it seemed like hours. My main concerns were maintaining altitude, keeping from doing an unintentional barrel-roll, and not plummeting into the Mississippi River in flames. While I did those things, I also wondered what the pedals were for (I still can’t figure it out), and tried to will the blood back into my hands, which were clamped so tightly on the controls I couldn’t feel my fingers.

While I wasn’t panicking on the inside, yet trying to maintain a relatively calm attitude on the outside, I took a hell of a lot of pictures. Mostly of Wisconsin, which looks much the same from the air as from the ground: brown and farmy. Here’s the mighty Mississippi, which is still looking kind of frozen.

We landed at Red Wing, peed, and called home to verify that we were indeed still alive. I discovered that small regional airports look pretty much like my uncle’s family room. The woman at the desk offered us quesadillas she had just made in the microwave, and ice cream sandwiches from the freezer. We politely declined. We had more flying to do.

Next time, I’m bringing my leather cap and goggles. Red fucking Baron. Yes!


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