Lessons From the Sky: My Own Journey in Aviation

September 07 2015

“The airplane is just a bunch of sticks and wires and cloth, a tool for learning about the sky and about what kind of person I am, when I fly”– Richard Bach


The most memorable moment of any pilot’s career is the first solo. For most, it is considered the crowning achievement of years of hard work, learning and dedication to our craft. It is a chance to push ourselves past our comfort zone for the first time. It is a chance to question whether we have the chops to complete something very few have even had the opportunity to attempt. Well, a few years back I had that very chance.

The day was uneventful, at least leading up to it. The sun was shining, a light wind out of the east and very little traffic at my local airport. After putting in about an hour of practice, my instructor pulled over. My hands sweating, he jumped out of the plane with a mere wink and wave. Even though I had prepared for this moment, I couldn’t stop the gnawing sense of nausea, stress and nervousness as I taxied away alone for the first time. Stopping short of Runway 16 at Chicago Executive, I went through my checklists (probably about six times to make sure I didn’t screw anything up). Fumbling, I clicked the mic to call up the tower:

“Tower, holding short of runway 16. Ready for takeoff”

Maybe, I should amend my previous statement. It isn’t the first solo (as a whole) that a pilot will always remember, it is the moment you leave the ground. This has nothing to do with joy, but everything to do with fear. It is at that point, that critical moment, where every pilot makes a choice. We make the choice to continue, to push forward past our fears and to embrace the unknown.

Let’s back up for a second – how did I even get here? High school was difficult for me, as it is or was for most of you all. I was sick a lot with various illnesses, a pretty big nerd (especially with aviation) and unsure in my own skin. Every day, I would rush home to lock myself in my room. Thing is? Once I got there, I was able to explore my own world. Reading about planes, airlines, and pilots was my escape. Flight sim and RC planes provided a respite from the bullying, and aggravation that a nerdy and “uncool” high school kid faced. I immersed myself in my passions, creating my own identity. Kids in school would make fun of me for it, while I grew deeper in love with this fascinating world. A world that, at the time, would give me so much more than I could possibly imagine.

Aviation helped give me a voice. It gave me a sense of belonging, a passion, a reason to get up and work hard. It gave me a set of values, and a determination to become a better version of myself. It may seem trivial to you, but it meant the world to me. Now, as a recent college graduate trying to find his place in the world. I can say with no embarrassment, no shame. I’m a nerd and I’m passionate about what I love. To me, there’s no better way to find yourself.

“Runway 16 you are cleared for takeoff”

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Washington, DC

PS: A shout-out to all my GW friends and family on the listserve who helped shape me throughout this journey. Max, Kasey, Megan, Daniela, Isaac, Evin, Juman and all the others

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