Regardless of age we all have things that we hope to do when we “grow up”.  Sometimes these are achievable goals and some things will always remain dreams born from youthful innocence. I have accepted the fact that I will probably never hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the New York Yankees. I realize that it is unlikely that I will ever be able to take several months off from life to hike the Appalachian Trail. Yesterday, however, I did something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

Yesterday I flew an airplane. Oddly enough, it was surprisingly easy to arrange.  Even more surprisingly, I did not crash the plane.

Not too long ago the most amazing woman in the world sent me a text on some random Wednesday that she had a surprise for me when I got home. I spent the day imagining the possibilities of this but none of the things that ran through my mind were even close to what I received when I walked in the door. Admittedly my first reaction was “A piece of paper…that’s a weird gift.” Once I actually read the paper, however, I could not believe that it was real.  Thanks to my wife and the good people at Mint Air in association with Groupon, I was going to take the controls of a small airplane.

Mint Air is located at the Downtown Greenville airport and offers flight lessons and small aircraft rental.  As an introduction to their services they offer a 30 minute “Discovery Flight.” For about $120 (or $70 for those with Groupon shopping savvy and good fortune) you can take a flight over Greenville County and actually take over the controls of the airplane. My initial expectation of this was that I might get to touch a control or two in a co-pilot capacity and get an atta-boy for “flying the plane.”  I could not have been more wrong.

Sitting in the pilot’s seat, I steered an 800 pound two-seat airplane across the runway using left- and right- foot pedals that I had been acquainted with for seven seconds.  I was shown the lever that would operate the parachute in the event of a tragic mishap (yes, this plane is small enough to have its own parachute) and then we took off. About two minutes after takeoff we were at “cruising altitude” which was just above 3,000 feet. I noted that this was not high enough to get us over the top of Table Rock and Pinnacle mountains lying directly in front of us. That is when the flight instructor told me to take a couple pictures and then take the controls and steer us to the left. I stopped giggling like an idiot out of excitement just long enough to notice that his hands were off the controls and in his lap waiting for me to fly this plane.

I have to be honest – I have never been this simultaneously terrified and excited in my entire life. Feeling this tiny little aircraft responding to my slightest movement of the controls was exhilarating but clashed with the worry that I was going to have a spastic fit that would send us spinning out of control to a certain death. The instructor never screamed in terror, or even took his hands of his lap for that matter, so I guess I did an acceptable job of turning the airplane 13 degrees to the left.

I flew on my first commercial flight before I was old enough to remember things and have done it somewhat regularly ever since. To this day I still look out the window as I imagine I must have done as a child. Defying gravity and seeing the world from this vantage point is an extremely powerful sensation but sitting in the cockpit in command of the aircraft’s every move adds a level of control that is almost God-like. This is paralleled by a sense of how fragile you are in such a small craft, 3,000 feet in the air, when you have no idea what in the world you are doing.  It is hard to forget that your life is in the hands of some composite materials wrapped around a four cylinder engine and a guy you met 30 minutes ago… so I kept reminding myself about the parachute.

I like to think that the fears and reservations I felt before and during the flight are perfectly normal and that I am not just a big sissy. Regardless, their presence did not take a single thing away from how much I enjoyed my adventure.  This was more than a thrill ride, but a fulfillment of childhood dreams.

When I was a little kid, my Dad used to take me to the Downtown Greenville airport to watch the little planes take off. I remember eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and being fascinated by the world of flight. Yesterday I returned to that same airport and finally realized the dream I have had ever since. To top it off, my Dad, wife, and six-year-old son got to share it with me as they watched from the air traffic control tower.  I could not have asked for a better Saturday.
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