I Fly Planes–What Do You Do for Fun?

Howard students are definitely talented, distinguishing themselves in the classroom, on the athletic fields, on the stage, and in the community. But did you know they also do pretty well thousands of feet above the earth? Check out this guest post from senior and trained pilot, Emily Prechtl:

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In 1995, my father’s F-16 Viper ‘departed controlled flight’ during a routine attack mission.  Basically, his jet’s engine had too much inertia during a turn, and it threw him into a virtually unbreakable spin, so he plummeted 35,000 feet towards the Earth.

He’s fine, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t exist.  After a frightening ninety seconds, he deployed his spin chute that all test pilots have mounted on the tail of their aircraft, and he immediately recovered from the deep stall.  I remember when he let me watch the footage of the view from the ground, where glimpses of the Viper caught the sunlight through the scorching desert haze.  I remember how calm he had sounded over the radio.

Today, we pull up to the gate of Tipton Airport.  Its title is far more impressive than what it actually is: a completely unguarded, semi-abandoned World War Two runway with one hangar and a parking lot of planes for retirees with little else to do with their hard-earned pilot’s license.  Everything here is peeling and rusting and smelling strongly of dust, but Dad seems to almost skip up the stairs.

We reach our plane, N507PC.  Papa Charlie’s a touch nicer than the ones around it; its white paint unmarked, its blue stripe a glossy, dazzling sapphire.  It has a coat of arms painted on the tail, but I’m not sure it actually means anything.  Still, nice.  As Dad completes his routine check, I climb inside the rickety cockpit to secure my bright blue headset over my ears and put the microphone to my lips.

We pull up to the runway.  My headset crackles to life as Dad contacts air-traffic control with our squawk code.  Once we’re authorized, he pushes down on a lever, wisely refraining from making a Star Trek reference.

We accelerate rapidly, the propeller beating against the headwind as the blades of grass disappear into a big green blur.  As always, I begin to feel a little concerned that we’re going to run out of road.  I’ve been doing this since I was five, but looking over and seeing Dad replying to emails on his BlackBerry instead of watching the runway never does me any favors.

But the plane lifts off anyway.  My breath escapes me as we rise above the trees, and suddenly everything is so exceedingly small…

Light reflects off of everything, and the whole world is a mirror.  I look as far into the horizon as I can, and I’m rewarded with a glimpse of what I hope my life to contain: travel by plane, pen and coffee stains, names I struggle to pronounce with my flat, American tongue.  I drink in the silence of the clouds as they glide overhead, while Dad pulls a few G’s diving underneath the smaller puffies.  I giggle lightheadedly as all the blood rushes to my feet, and I’m struck with a funny thought as I turn my head to the bottomless sky above:  I can see the face of God.

I fly the plane myself for a while, keeping the bug spot on the horizon, and it’s impossibly easy.  I spend the next hour gazing at sailboats as they zigzag across the Chesapeake below, fading white scars across a dark clean face.  How could anyone be afraid?

We land in Cambridge, an airport just as small and remote as Tipton.  It has a quaint little restaurant with amiable waitresses and large windows to watch the runway activity, but the crab cakes and peanut butter pie divert my attention from anything else.  I’m also briefly enchanted with the fact that their pink lemonade comes in jars with mint leaves at the bottom, and I’m still thinking about it when we return to where our plane is parked outside.

For the rest of my life, when shoved into groups of strangers for icebreakers, I dread the Interesting Fact portion of my introduction.  Not only does my voice waver, but I hesitate with my answer.  “I fly airplanes,” I say, but “I can’t imagine life without it” is something I can’t so easily express.

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