A Flight Of Faith
It was a chilly morning in late August. “Today is the day,” I thought, as I parked my bicycle in its usual spot. There wasn't a sound to be heard in the area, other than the occasional chirp of a bird, awake for the hunt. As the sun rose above the horizon, numerous shadows cast across the cement apron of the Rockcliffe airport. Planes. The aircraft, each different in complexion, lined the sides of the ramp, yearning for the skies. I couldn't help feeling a surge of excitement, envisioning what lay ahead. The adventure was just beginning. I made my way around the side of the tiny, wooden building with my flight bag in hand. The light morning breeze ruffled my hair. I grimaced. “Looks like it'll be a windy day,” I thought to myself, knowing the wind was bound to pick up. I made my way up the creaky steps and into the flight club where my instructor would inspect my final flight plan. I took a seat on the old vinyl couch in the pilot's lounge. The next hour was spent reviewing my flight plan and ensuring everything was in order. After a grueling wait, my instructor walked in. Greg, a seasoned pilot and senior flight instructor, would sign me out for my first cross-country flight. I greeted him and sheepishly handed over my planning sheets. I watched with anticipation as he looked over the documents, nodding approval after every step. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he said, “Alright, let's get you a plane and you're good to go”. We walked down the hallway to the dispatch station where I was assigned a Cessna 172, fresh out of inspection. After grabbing my equipment, I hurriedly exited the building in the direction of my aircraft to perform the walk around; an essential step to ensure the security of an aircraft. The inspection went smoothly, as expected, and I was ready to go. With my survival kit loaded and my navigation charts ready, I performed my final startup checks. With a twist of a key, the old Lycoming engine roared to life. I taxied to the end of the runway. My Cessna was ready to fly and so was I. Full power. The engine roared like a lion as we barrelled down the runway. I could feel every bump in the pavement and every instability in the air. 55 knots. As I'd practiced many times before, I pulled back on the yoke. We were airborne. The aircraft climbed through the mid-morning sky as it drew further away from the world below. After communicating my departure route with local traffic, I switched to terminal frequency and continued my climb. I reached 8000 feet and the controller cleared me on course to Kingston. I banked the aircraft to the left, set my heading and started my timer. The journey had begun. I couldn't help but gaze out my window at the glimmering water of the Frontenac lakes beneath me. Suddenly, I realized I was flying alone with the grandeur of the Canadian wilderness stretching for miles in every direction. Most would feel terror. I felt alive. I had never been more confident in my abilities. An overwhelming feeling of happiness overtook me as I realized I'd found my second home – My calling. After an hour, the endless forest gave way to a large lake on the horizon. Lake Ontario. I could see the city of Kingston along the shore of the lake. I started my descent. As I inched lower, I could see the shadow cast by the aircraft glistening on the lake's surface. I was one with the machine. Its behavior was intertwined with mine. Suddenly, a violent gust of wind struck the airplane and it veered abruptly to the left. I corrected quickly, my heart pounding in my chest. The wind had increased significantly. I knew it would be a challenge to get the plane on the ground. The flight service operator gave me a runway to land. I started my approach over Lake Ontario. The glistening turquoise water below looked peaceful, unaware of the buffeting winds aloft. I turned onto the base leg and started my approach into the airport. Sweat pearled down my face as I maneuvered the old aircraft onto final approach. Full flaps. The runway was dead ahead. The airport was getting closer every second. A nasty crosswind forced me to tilt the wings into the wind to maintain my course. Five hundred feet. We would be touching down within thirty seconds. I continued my approach into the inner-city airport with determination. Fifty feet. I could see the runway numbers just ahead. “It's now or never,” I thought. Moments before the wheels touched the ground, I pulled back gently on the yoke and put the aircraft into a flare. The maneuver was one I'd practiced. It allowed me to bleed off the extra speed. I felt the plane descend until the squeak of the tires assured me that the aircraft was on the ground. I applied the brakes and exited onto the nearest taxiway. “What a flight,” I thought to myself. I closed my eyes. Pandemic. Shutdown. Lockdown. Mask Up. Isolate yourself. But I persisted. A dream come true. A licensed pilot at last.