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  • When I was little, like 4 and 5 little, I would draw airplanes of every kind that I could imagine.

    My mother gave me a hardcover encyclopedia of aircraft for my sixth Christmas. It had photos of everything from the Wright Flyer to the Saturn V launch to the Boeing 747 to the space shuttle orbiter. Now, even that book would look a little old-fashioned, but it covered just about every bit of flying from the eight decades of powered flight that had come before.

    I used to turn the shiny pages of that encyclopedia back and forth admiring the photos of airplanes and reading the all the details of propellers and jets and seaplanes and sailplanes ... and dreaming of the sky. My heart still beats a little faster when I think about the Beechcraft Staggerwing and the de Havilland Comet Grosvenor House jumping to life out of those pages.

    Somehow, despite all of this love of the machinery itself, I never knew a pilot growing up. I didn't even really realize that pilots might just be "normal" people. Through the years, I contented myself with models built from plastic and wood, and graph paper dreams of jets and spaceships with names and all the specifics to match. Still, never imagining that real people flew real airplanes.

    Life being life, I went on to other teenage concerns and didn't think about such things for a long while.

    Somehow, some years later, one snowy January I was flying to visit my grandparents in Florida while on break between some first aimless years of college. From the airport gift shop, I bought a book titled The Joy of Flying. I read it cover to cover while flying from Philadelphia to Sarasota, and again in Florida, and one more time flying home to Ithaca. That little USAir Beech 1900 on the last leg home seemed more real than any airplane I had ever known.

    I called my local flying club as soon as I was back on the ground.

    A day later, I went for my very first flight ever in the front of an airplane.
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