Dad was a marine aviator and there was, therefore, nothing cooler than flying.
Together, we followed the exploits of the space pioneers--X-15 pilots, Mercury program. As a young kid I followed NASA like other kids follow sports teams. They were often kind enough to schedule launches near my fall birthday, making a big day even bigger.
My high school offered aviation and aerospace as an elective, providing a thorough ground school preparation for the written exam for the pilot's license. That summer, I went to a small nearby field and took a demo flight. While we were flying, I asked the pilot, "when do we do the fun stuff?"
"What do you mean?"
"Wing overs, loops, you know--fun stuff"
"Son we don't do that in these planes. If you want to do that, you'll need to get a license and then take aerobatic training"
"So what do you do in these planes?" I asked, a bit deflated
"Well, we like to fly to other airports. Some of them have pretty good restaurants and we get a hamburger"
I can do that in my '70 Ford LTD I thought.
As a senior in high school, I briefly flirted with the idea of going to the Naval or Air Force Academies, since it seemed the best way to get to do what I thought of as fun flying. Dad's tales of freedom in the air ever ringing in my ears. Fortunately, I recognized that my chaffing at authority paired with the possbility that I might get stuck flying a tanker wouldn't yeild the outcome I hoped for.
I put away the dream.
Decades later and married, my wife gave me a flight in a glider for my birthday.
Yes! The tow, flying in formation 200' behind the Pawnee.
Yes! The release and a climbing, steeply banked turn.
Yes! Climbing in a thermal, 45-60' of bank, round and round until I could no longer find the airfield we took off from and tendrils of a flat bottomed cu were hanging just above us
Yes! A steep approach to landing, rounding out just above the green grass, tail wheel reaching down, down, now the grass hits the wheel and it starts to spin. Main gear 6" above the earth we stall and roll to a stop.
Soaring, perhaps the most improbable of sports. In our motorless, fusion powered airplanes, towed up by av gas to 2000' AGL, we release and spend 5 hours or more climbing in thermals with raptors and carrion birds, gliding across the coutryside from cloud to cloud, intimate with the atmosphere and the incredible power it holds. We race across the countryside with our friends because it is impossible for men and the boys we still hold inside ourselves to be in things that move and not race.
Cruising between thermals at 90mph, I hit a strong thermal, pull up sharply, drop flaps and establish a 45 degree bank, cirlcing just above stall speed as I rise up to cloud base again. Climb, glide, repeat all afternoon.
In the last thermal of the day, 25 miles from home, I reach an altitude that allows me to glide back to the Soaring Club of Houston without stopping for any more thermals. Before I leave the thermal and the shade of the cloud I'm under, I thank God for letting me play with the majesty of the sky.
Crossing at mid field, I still have some excess altitude and a lot of speed, so I do wing overs and the occaisional loop in the acro box before entering the pattern. Steep approach, round out just above the ground, reach down with the tailwheel until the grass makes it spin, drop the last few inches to the earth, flying no more, turn off the runway, roll up to the hangar. Ah yes, the ground. I remember it well--it's the place we tell our tales of soaring.
www.scoh.org is a great jumping off point on the web if you want more info on soaring