The air traffic controller with the thick New York accent told me to turn 30 degrees to the left and climb 1000′ due to glider activity in the area. My iPad showed some traffic and my head was on a swivel keeping an eye out. Relief! I spotted the traffic 2000′ below and a mile to the north. I’d never seen a glider from my plane before and it was mesmerizing watching the long wings – it looked like a completely white dragonfly doing pirouettes.
At that moment, out of the corner of my eye, at 7500′, I saw a plane coming from the right, coming in fast.
I never had visions of becoming a pilot like some people. I think if someone had suggested it to me I would’ve thought that I didn’t have the smarts, the skills, or the money for such a thing. But in the course of doing business, I became very good friends with two customers who were both pilots.
Pilots like to talk a lot. About flying. That’s it. Oh And beer. When I was visiting with Rick and Larry they’d tell me stories of flying through the clouds in west Texas or making trips to the Caribbean. Larry had a fondness for landing on grass and Rick had a thing for Cardinals….a type of single engine Cessna.
Hanging with these guys inspired me to take exactly one single lesson. I went up in a Piper Tomahawk for my first time and found that while it was exhilarating, it felt like it was the scariest thing I’d ever done.
Here’s a secret: if you take a flying lesson, the instructor will let you fly the plane. And even though the instructor was sitting next to me, I felt a little like Lewis or Clark, traveling to places almost no one has seen before.
Air traffic control had also asked another plane to make a course change and change altitudes due to the glider activity. At that moment , the glider came from the right and went right over my plane. I guess that it was less than 100′ above my plane. My pulse quickened, I started to sweat. What WAS that?!?!?? I called over to the controller to let him know a glider just flew over me and ask if he saw it on his radar. He said no. The chatter that was previously on the frequency all but stopped when the other pilots heard my voice.
Becoming a pilot in your thirties has some advantages…most being the ability to remain calm. I didn’t get hit by the plane, I didn’t make a mess in my pants, I was still alive. I asked to climb higher even though that doesn’t make it any safer and immediately got cleared to do so.
The remainder of my trip was so uneventful, I had felt like it was just a dream.
When I got home, I called the air park where the gliders were based. I talked to the owner of the glider company for about an hour and he told me that they try to avoid powered planes at all costs, but that sometimes these things happen. He relayed a story to me about how he had taken a representative from the FAA up in a glider because they were considering changes to the routes commercial planes were taking in the vicinity. On that flight, both he and the FAA rep had their closest call ever with another plane.
Flying can be dangerous. Is it more dangerous than driving? Obviously you have a better chance at surviving a collision in a car, but driving kills 100 people every day….about 35,000 per year according to the NHTSA.
Is it worth the risk to experience the magic of flight? Up to you to decide….let me know after you take your first flying lesson.