Monday, September 11, 2006

first flight

I think everyone remembers their first flight.

Most people who decide to take lessons have been daydreaming about learning to fly for months, if not years, before they work up the courage and cash to finally step inside a flight school. So that first lesson, in an odd way, is the culmination of all that waiting.

I was no different. As soon as I got a little college graduation cash burning a hole in my pocket in the summer of '99, I told my buddy Phil, who I worked with at the funeral home, that I was ready to learn. Being a nutty pilot himself, he whisked me around to a bunch of different flight schools that very afternoon, and a few hours later I was signing up for my first lesson at Teterboro. Two days later, I returned for my first flight.

My instructor, Hilbert, showed me the basics of a preflight inspection, and before I knew it, we were climbing aboard a rickety Skyhawk and taxiing. I had absolutely no idea what to expect or where we were headed.

Most of you may already know this, but Teterboro is situated about five miles southwest of the George Washington Bridge, two miles north of the Meadowlands and what seems like a stone's throw from midtown Manhattan.

So when we took off toward the south, it was pretty cool to see Giants Stadium immediately in front of us. We banked toward the east before actually flying overhead. We flew over brown marshes and swamps, and in what seemed like a minute, reached the Hudson. Staring us in the face was the New York skyline.

I think about this now when I'm instructing. When I bring people up for the first flight and they are just so thrilled to get in the plane and fly over some farmland. I can only smile, because it ain't shit compared to what I was lucky enough to get my first flight.

We headed straight down the Hudson 1,000 feet above the ground. Any higher, and we would penetrate LaGuardia's airspace. But from the surface to 1,000, it was the aeronautical equivalent of the Autobahn -- everyone's welcome and there are no rules.

That has, of course, changed dramatically since Sept. 11, 2001. In retrospect, I can't believe how naive and lax the rules were, that anyone could climb into a plane and cruise past the Empire State Building and over Manhattan. At the same time, it's sad to think no one else can get this trip anymore.

We turned south down the Hudson. The World Trade Center was off to the left. Gazing at the whole skyline, it was like watching the opening credits of All In The Family. Except we were actually in the air seeing it all first-hand.

It was a perfect day. You could see for 60 miles in any direction. The Staten Island Ferry headed away from Manhattan, and we could see barges coming in and out of the harbor. The first time I ever actually turned an airplane myself, it was circling directly over the Statue of Liberty.

Turning north, we aimed up the East River. It seemed like you could actually reach out and touch the Twin Towers. I have pictures from this flight that show exactly how effing close we were -- I am beyond pissed that I can't find them right at this moment on my hard drive. If I do, I will post them in a later entry. Put it this way: we could see people on the observation deck, and they didn't look like ants.

With all due respect to the Empire State Building, this was the highlight for me. When I was a kid, we always went to the observation deck at the Towers, not the Empire. When I was older, they were the buildings that filled the windshield while driving out of Hoboken (probably half in the bag, not proud to admit). Point being, you couldn't help but fixate on them.

Flying over those same observation decks I'd stood on many times, I don't know, must sort of be what it's like looking down on the rest of the planet from the top of Everest. We were on top of the Big Apple.

We headed up the East River, cut directly over Central Park and headed back toward the G.W. and Teterboro. From the time we started our taxi to the time we were parking was exactly 1.0 hours. A very quick lesson.

After that first trip, training primarily took us north toward a practice area near Mahwah or over those hills and up toward Poughkeepsie and Orange County, N.Y. A few times, we went west toward Allentown and Scranton. We never did the Hudson River run again, but it stands out as the highlight of my training.

I did get the chance to do it again in June 2001. I was home from Colorado, and Phil took my Dad and I up in a Bonanza. A little more aware of my surroundings this time, I concentrated on spotting all the other traffic in the sky and staying on the heading we had received from Newark Approach.

But the awe factor was still there. It was again an amazing expereince, and one that has left a huge impression in my mind. I don't think it could ever get old.

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At 9:44 AM, Blogger Erik said...

nice post buddy, you did a really great job of painting a picture of NY that I remember vividly.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Todd Cohen said...

Was that June experience before or after we doled out beads on a street where another disaster took place?

Gar sends his regards.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger SJPSandman said...

Great post, cat!

I'm deathly afraid of heights, but I was diggin your flow.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Local Shill said...

Good stuff, Biggs.

As the rules are now, can you no longer come anywhere near Manhattan in a plane?

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Pete said...


They now have something called an ADIZ -- Air Defense Identification Zone.

You can fly through it, but you need an approved flight plan filed and to be squawking a discreet code. In order to file a flight plan, you have to have been pre-screened by the TSA.

However, we can still fly from Teterboro to Morristown without a problem, if you'd like. ...


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