Wednesday, December 10, 2008


While we were in Knoxville for Thanksgiving, Jodie's cousin, Steven, met us at the airport with his wife, Melissa, and three year old son, Nicholas. I knew Steven was an airplane enthusiast -- although not (yet) a pilot, Steven recognized the Tiger as being similar to the type of airplane flown by a regular contributor to a flying magazine. That, and his unabashed confession, identified him as an aviation nut like myself. It turns out that his son, Nicholas, is also airplane crazy.

I was excited to show the airplane to both of them, and was pleased when Nicholas hardly hesitated when asked if he'd like to sit in the Tiger. We asked him if he'd like to go for a ride, and he said yes, but seemed confused when somebody mentioned that I was the pilot. As he was the only one in the plane, I am quite sure he was confident in his own abilities as Pilot In Command.

Knoxville is a beautiful place to fly, and it was a pretty evening, perfect for a young boy's first flight in a small plane. The downtown skyline is right off the end of Runway 26, visible in the picture above.

Jodie showed him all of the buttons and switches.....
Then I slid his seat all the way back (away from the controls) and buckled him in tightly....
Steven and Melissa climbed into the back, and the four of us taxied to the end of Runway 26. As I did the runup checks, Nicholas explained that we needed to pat our legs three times, "pat, pat, pat," and then say "blastoff!" We pulled onto the runway, I brought the engine to full power, we all patted our legs and said, "pat, pat, pat," and guess what......

We blasted off into silky smooth air and the airport grew smaller behind us. (This is a great photo of the Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville.)

It turned out that I needn't have worried about Nicholas wanting to grab the controls. He was enthralled from the moment of liftoff and hardly moved or looked away from the window, even when we tried to get his attention. His headset, too big for a little boy, slid off his head, but he hardly noticed.

We flew west, over the house of Jodie's parents, then circled north around the city. Melissa didn't have a headset, so couldn't easily communicate verbally, but she gave me a big smile and thumbs up as we cruised in the soft air. We flew down the Holston River and passed Holston Hills, where Steven's mother lives. Steven was on the wrong side of the airplane to see her house, so we circled around to fly past the house once more, then entered the crosswind leg of the airport traffic pattern.

We landed and I slid the canopy back so we could wave at Jodie as we taxied back to where she was standing. Nicholas was out of his reverie now that we were back on the ground and continued his excited waving all the way to the fuel pumps. I put fuel in the plane while Nicholas inquired about everything I was doing, then he climbed in for the short taxi to the tiedown spot.

I know that for me and many other adults, the experience of flying in an airplane results in hours or days of images and flying dreams. My mom, for example, wrote in my logbook two days after our first flight together that the experience "produced vivid sensations & images - all of them great - that continue to swirl through my mind." For children, the effect may be even more pronounced, and what a joy it is to contribute to that with the flying that I love so much myself! I look forward with curiosity to see what place, if any, flying might have in the lives of Nicholas, Emerson, and . . . Hey, are there any other three year olds that want go "pat, pat, pat" and blastoff?

"Deftly they opened the brain of a child,
and it was full of flying dreams."

~Stanley Kunitz