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“Northwest, this is La Crosse Tower. Hold-short runway three-one for Cessna on final.”
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Knowing that I had personally delayed a plane full of commercial passengers on my sixteenth birthday was not what I had in mind for my first solo flight. Regardless, the hold-short command, a matter of little importance to the Northwest pilot and tower operator, made it impossible to ignore the reality of my success.
Unlike the fortuitous Peter Pan, who needs only to “think of a wonderful thought,” it did not take me long to reach the conclusion that more than a bit of pixie dust would be required to make my young aviation dreams come true. My quest soon brought me to Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the official volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force, which flies more search and rescue missions than any other organization. I joined CAP as a cadet almost four years ago, attained the Cadet Officer rank of Captain (the Amelia Earhart Award), participated in numerous national Cadet activities, and served in state and national Cadet leadership positions. Never did I abandon my dream of flying, however, and it was through CAP flight training that I found the key to my box of pixie dust.
Before I was allowed anywhere near a magical flying device, however, I attended hour upon hour (upon hour) of ground school sessions, learning the mechanics, instrumentation, physics, operation, and navigation necessary to be a safe pilot. Of course, I could never forget the joys of FAA regulations that make tax law seem like a thrilling novel. Then again, the woes of these early days were forgotten the moment I first stepped (or, rather, jumped) into the pilot seat of a Cessna 172.
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It would be disingenuous to claim that my first experiences were anything but stressful and terrifying. Suddenly I was in charge of an airplane, my own life, and even the life of my instructor. Although I knew on some level that my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) would not allow me to come to any real harm, my new responsibilities were daunting nonetheless. After months of practice, countless landings, and more than one rough day, I was prepared (at least theoretically) to take to the sky. Alone.
The weatherman was right; it was a perfect day. The sky was magnificently clear. The slight wind was perfectly aligned with the runway. The late spring afternoon merrily unfolded with dazzling brilliance. For the first time, I started the engine…alone. I taxied down the runway…alone. And then, I was flying…alone! The exhilaration immediately hit me with unimaginable force. Thousands of feet in the air, looking down on the Mississippi River and the abundant signs of spring, I realized there was no place I would rather be.
The pixie dust worked. My wonderful thought transformed into a marvelous reality. While I may have momentarily inconvenienced the passengers of that afternoon Northwest flight, I could not have had it any other way.
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