I’m a private pilot. Or that is to say I have a pilot’s license, though I’m not active right now. Earning my pilot’s license was one of the more interesting things I’ve done, and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment. Like a lot of things in life, you can take a fast track to getting your pilot’s license, or you can take your time and let it develop as just one of many areas of interest, I took the latter route.
My first flying instructor was an older gentleman named Harry. I’m not sure how we found him. I was working at Pratt & Whitney in Hartford CT. My friend, co-worker and roommate Tony Salvo and I decided that we would learn to fly. We each spent an hour every week or so flying with Harry.
Harry had a little white-and-green Cessna 150 that he called “The Grasshopper”. I always thought that he called it that because it was green, but in thinking back about it maybe there was more to it? Much like a young Kwai Chang Caine who was called “Grasshopper” by his teacher in Kung Fu, I was learning from a master who had many lessons to teach but few words to describe them.
Sometimes Harry would fall asleep when we were flying. I was in the left seat (the pilot’s position) and Harry was in the right. We would take off and go out exploring the Connecticut countryside. The rumbling of the engine, the vibration of the airframe and Harry’s elderly state all combined to lull him into a relaxed state. But when Harry did have something to say, it usually was deep and layered with meaning. I would often think of the things he said later and find new meaning in them. I still do.
One day Harry said to me “Hey Bob, I’ve got a new night-time emergency procedure for you!”. “OK Harry.” I said, “What is it?” Harry replied “If you’re going down at night, make sure to turn on your landing light.” (Airplanes have a “landing light” which is like a headlight on a car, but you only use it right on the final approach as you’re landing so you can judge your landing flare.) “OK” I said. Harry then said with a wry smile, “If you like what you see, leave it on. If you don’t, turn it off!”