Seductive Beauty

Perfect day for flying leads to complacent attitude and some not-so-perfect actions


A world of contradictions lay beneath my feet, which were buzzing slightly with the even hum of the engine.

The Florida summer sky, so often drenched with cumulus-feeding moisture this year, was smooth and clear. Only a few small dots of cloud muddied the far horizon on one side. The air at 4,500 feet was dry and 71 degrees. Jimmy Buffet sang a ballad crisply in the stereo headset that also served as my umbilical to the outside world. The radio popped only occasionally as I monitored the emergency frequency.

If this were anything but an airplane, there would be a beer commercial here somewhere.

Stretching below me, thousands of people went about their daily lives. I was too, of course, but I couldnt stifle a slight smirk as I wondered at the choice hand life had dealt me this day.

This was not slipping surly bonds, it was ignoring them, rendering them moot, daring them to try to reclaim me as their prize.

Where others might have seen boredom or some waste of time cruising at 100 knots, I found freedom and tranquility. All too soon, I saw my destination begin to take shape in the distance. It was still 15 miles away, but already I could make out the runway configuration at the uncontrolled field.

I dialed in the common traffic frequency, reduced power slightly and began a leisurely descent. Through checklists and a quick verification of the airport layout, I monitored the traffic: a couple of Skyhawks, an experimental and a Commander were reporting circuits or inbound. I announced my position and called inbound as well, maneuvering to enter a left downwind for the runway the wind apparently favored.

My pattern was tight, the turns crisp, I came down final within two knots of my target speed and rolled the main wheels on the ground with not even a chirp. Stick forward as the speed bled off, then I pinned the tailwheel, exited the runway and parked at the FBO.

It was then, standing in the shade of the wing listening to the ticking of cooling metal under the cowl, that I realized the price of my reverie.

I didnt know the wind speed or direction, even though my landing had been perfect. I didnt know the altimeter setting. I knew only myself, my airplane, and the tinny voices that had chattered in my headset.

Some may argue that old-fashioned stick-and-rudder flying on a flawless day needs not be bothered with the artificial minutia of modern regulations and technology, and they would be right. Its certainly true that on this flight my oversight in not listening to the AWOS or checking the windsock carried no foul.

But still, my mood deflated as I realized that, for an hour in the sky, I had let the elements rule me, rather than me exercising power over the air. And I wondered if somehow, somewhere, those surly bonds were plotting to get me back.

-Ken Ibold


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