Aviation International News, May 2012
An Aviator Comes Full Circle
It had been a routine flight, right up to the moment that the copilot dialed 24000 feet into the altitude pre-select window and we started our descent. As I rolled the vertical speed wheel into a nose down command, our Gulfstream Jet responded slowly, but she eventually began a healthy twenty five hundred foot per minute rate of descent as we departed FL350 (35000 feet) for FL 240.
The bright, incandescent, little white puff clouds that mark a typical early morning in southern Florida speckled the sky just enough to characterize the place. The sky was clear enough that we’d soon be able to cancel our IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan as we got Jack Graves Field in sight. It didn’t hit me yet, but I was descending fifty years into the past, to a place where I had roamed the steamy back roads of the south as a teenage sailor. In the years since, I had accumulated twenty thousand hours of flight time and was returning now in the cockpit of a twenty million dollar jet.
As we continued our descent, the few remaining clouds allowed me a clear view of NAS (Naval Air Station) Pensacola, the birthing place of every Naval aviator.
Fear As a Motivator
Up to now, this was just another leg in my reincarnation from “ROP” (retired old airline pilot) to corporate jet ace. But soon I’d realize the completion of a circle that I had drawn in the sand of a Gulf Shores beach as a seventeen-year old Navy “boot” some fifty plus years ago.
As we passed through FL310, I was physically comfortable in the left seat of my Gulfstream jet. Emotionally I was fifty years away.
I looked out the window at NAS Pensacola and realized that I was descending into the painful past of a scared teenager. He was a kid who, on paper, qualified for NavCad (Navy Cadet) pilot training. But his thoughts went directly to how tough it would be to earn those coveted gold wings and how little of the “right stuff” he thought he had.
Some of those same feelings of fear washed over me, along with the sadness that I had given up my dream; in that moment I was reliving the experience of that young kid. One could say that the kid failed to seize the moment; or…..one could say that everything has it’s time.
A Need to Belong
We continued the descent. As the first officer did the descent and approach check lists, my view of the past grew to match the land rising up to meet us.
“Pensacola approach control, Gulfstream 610.”
“Roger 610, go ahead.”
“Yes sir, we’ve got Jack Graves in sight. We’d like to cancel our IFR flight plan.”
“Roger, 610, canceling your IFR flight plan, squawk 1200. Good Day.”
I let my thoughts run some more; I slowed the descent from twenty five hundred feet a minute back to a more leisurely fifteen hundred feet so I could get a handle on a new feeling, one that I hardly expected.
Man, it was joy! After all these years of not feeling “good enough”, I was finally one of them! I had effectively ostracized myself from the aviators who I wanted so much to be a part of for so many years by my insecurities. But now, in this otherwise innocuous descent into a small airstrip in Alabama, I got it – I was actually one of this elite band of aviators who I hero-worshipped for so long.
In the persistent pursuit of continuing to do what I loved, long after many others had parked the brakes at their airline for the last time, the magic of flight had offered me a glimpse into that teenager’s soul. I had come full circle…