During the last decade, my spare time was spent building and flying ultra light airplanes. Even though I have a terrible fear of heights, it became a passion. In my opinion, there aren't too many things you could do that provide the level of excitement of the first flight of a homebuilt aircraft.
Having loved aviation my whole life, naturally I built models. Then I graduated to radio controlled planes. It wasn't long before I succumbed to the urge to get in one of those little planes, and decided to build one that I could fly.
Not having enough money to pay for lessons or a plane, I opted to build my own ultra light airplane. If they weigh less than 254 pounds and only have one seat, they are exempt from real airplane status. No license, inspection or (believe this or not) training required. In other words, right down my alley.
From an advertisement in the back of a magazine, I got in touch with an old ''coot'' from Texas who sold plans to a plane he invented, for $45. He actually had a video of him flying the plane, so I had proof that he was a legitimate ''airplane designer.'' Two thousand dollars later and about the same amount of hours, I had my airplane.
Knowing that the same principles of flight apply to all airplanes, whether they are big or small, convinced me that I already knew how to fly. All that was needed was a little courage, or momentary lapses of judgment, and I could be airborne.
I used the ''Wilber and Orville'' method of flight training, and in no time I was flying about 10 feet off the ground. After 20 or so such flights, I had to admit that I wasn't exactly ''slipping the surly bonds of Earth,'' and that I had to do what real airplane pilots do - that is, fly above the trees. So, casting all fate to the wind (literally) I lined up at the end of the runway and pushed the throttle to full.
As the plane rumbles and bounces along the grass strip, it isn't much different than any other vehicle, except the bounces become longer and softer until finally you break free of Earth's surface.
As you watch the ground fall away, your mind is flooded with thoughts and sensations. When you finally climb higher than the tops of the trees, you experience the shock of the expanded vista. You see, as surface creatures, our view is fairly restricted; there are few places that you can see farther than a few hundred yards, and it is mostly blocked by buildings, trees and hills.
The grass strip that I fly out of is ringed with tall trees, so other than looking straight down the runway, your view is limited to 100 yards or so. But, once higher than the treetops, you can instantly see for 20 or 30 miles. It is quite a pleasant shock. Climb a couple thousand feet and you can see the silhouettes of office buildings in downtown Cleveland if the sky isn't too hazy.
Your mind races as it fights to share its time between enjoying the feeling of floating on air with the expanded view, and the more mundane but crucial task of trying to figure out how to manipulate the controls so as to keep from crashing back to Earth. As these sensations and thoughts vie for a window seat, a new thought starts to crowd to the front: your brain reminding you that you built this thing. You are sitting in what essentially is a lawn chair, attached to a couple thousand pieces of wood, steel, aluminum and cloth, welded, bolted and glued into this contraption that is now supporting you a thousand feet off the ground.
All too soon, excitement and fear make standing on the grass strip far below the immediate goal. As you circle to align yourself for the landing, the strip looks far too small to accommodate you, but your rational side reassures you that it truly is bigger than the green postage stamp that lies ahead and below you.
When you are close enough to pull your throttle back to idle, you feel relief knowing you could make the runway even if your engine quits, and you now focus on keeping your wings level and your descent timed to touch down at the right spot. The ground rushes past as your wheels touch the grass and you roll to a stop.
It settles in that the danger is passed and you feel an overwhelming sense of relief and satisfaction that you have just completed the most adventurous journey of your life, even though it was only a few miles.
Moadus is a Girard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.