Solitary Delights of Infinite Space
October 4, 2007 2:43 PM   Subscribe

7 Means of Movement: Flying From "Come Fly With Me" to "Waitress In The Sky," Locust St. impresses us with all things aeronautical.
posted by vronsky (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Silver Wings
posted by vronsky at 3:06 PM on October 4, 2007

The article is not so much about the aviator's view of flight, but the civilians' -- passengers and bystanders. Flying is presented as voodoo and unbelievable; cf. the thing about the airplane falling from the sky if all the passengers stopped believing. That's completely alien to the aviator's view.

As a kid I remember reading those R. L. Stevenson books, like Kidnapped and Treasure Island. For me those books captured the call of the sea, the thing that made boys dream of running away and stowing away just so you could be under sail. That's how it's always been for me and flying. There are a few authors that capture this feeling -- Nevil Shute and Ernest Gann, of course, but also some recent writers like Langwiesche (in the Atlantic).

I have this clipping from the San Francisco Examiner of Feb. 18, 1996, by Tom Stienstra, called Why We Fly (or Flying a plane is truly a flight of fancy). Unfortunately I can't find it anywhere on the web. (I'm sure it's available on Lexis/Nexis but I don't have an account.) He captured a bit of the magic of flight in a small airplane, where you're not separated from the world in a tiny sealed cylinder 7 miles up. Best of all, it was about flying around San Francisco, which for me is like gilding the lily (but in a good way).

A few paragraphs:

FROM 2,500 feet over the Marin Headlands, I scanned off my left wing toward
Point Reyes and watched the sun set into a layer of stratus well out to sea,
with gold, orange and pink sunbeams refracting for miles through the soft
cloud layers below.

Off my right wing, I looked down and saw a stream of fog pouring through the
Golden Gate Bridge, the towers shining gold in the twilight. I raised the
prop rpm and manifold pressure for climbout, angled for a climbing right
turn off the south flank of Mt. Tamalpais, and with the wings tipped,
glanced back at San Francisco. The lights were starting to glimmer from the
downtown high-rises, the Bay was calm, the blackening islands floated like
spirit phantoms in the shadows of dusk.

For anybody who thinks the Bay Area or California is a lousy place to
live---anybody who says, "too many people, no place left to go' -- I wish I
could take them for a ride in my little airplane and show how beautiful the
world can look.


YEARS AGO I felt suffocated by the traffic, overwhelmed by time demands, and
at one point started thinking about bailing out and opening my own fishing
lodge in Canada or Alaska. Instead I took that flight, and within minutes, I
realized what I had been missing: The incomparable beauty and the
extraordinary amount of untouched landscape, hidden lakes, wilderness and

After having traveled throughout much of North America, I now realize that
there is no "somewhere else' to go. The best place to be is right here, and
all anyone needs to realize it is a fresh perspective, from the left seat of
a small airplane, your left hand on the yoke, right on the throttle.

posted by phliar at 3:37 PM on October 4, 2007

Have you read this FLIGHT OF PASSAGE: A TRUE STORY phliar? Great book.
posted by vronsky at 4:08 PM on October 4, 2007

Well said, phliar. Flying is nice and more people should try it.* A long while ago I posted a guy's flying memoirs to the blue; I think he did a pretty good job of conveying some of the feeling.

I liked the recent NYTimes Travel section article about soaring; a reporter visits a gliderport in New York State. My favorite part of the article begins with her describing her apprehension about the assignment:
...One club member snorted. Apparently, many of the articles written about the group have been handled by similarly fearful reporters. β€œAnd then all the stories end up being about how they overcame their fears,” he said in a not unkind but certainly not coddling tone. Right then and there, I got over myself. Apparently, all my previous rationalization β€” not to mention judicious use of anti-anxiety medication β€” had been a waste of time. All I really needed was a bit of avuncular needling.
It's understandable that the narrative frequently turns out the way that the club member describes, but I'm quite glad the article was able to mostly avoid that old saw, which always seemed to (a) miss the point (b) reinforce the idea that flying an airplane is a priori slightly unreasonable.

* NB: I am not saying you should try it, reader. It's not for everyone.
posted by tss at 4:47 PM on October 4, 2007

Excellent article (reading it while Failsafe is playing on the idiot box) and wonderful accompanying images.
posted by nickyskye at 8:32 PM on October 4, 2007

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