Yesterday, I realised that not too many people know the following about me. So I posted it on LinkedIn, only to find the post half-garbled and the video missing this morning and LinkedIn telling me that 30 people had read the post as well as 12 people had seen it – which is it? – whereas normally the number is at most 5 or so, this quickly after I post something. So I am now posting it here too.
It’s not something I still often think of, certainly not now that flying as passengers is nowhere near the fun it once was (in view of the overwhelming presence of all the security measures that we have these days). A few days ago, however, YouTube started suggesting aviation videos to me, reviving the memories.
Once upon a time, when I was still a spring chicken, there was a day on which the guy in the seat next to me said “You start it just the way you start a car” and I replied that I didn’t know how to do that.
(I got my driving license later, at 24, after I had just enrolled as a full-time student in earth sciences. I remember that too. I had just been on a week-long trip involving two or three countries and at least one broken-down door and some alcohol, had been writing up the report, for which I got a top grade with a “bravo!” from Harm Rondeel – my very first earth science grade now that I think of it – stopped for a moment to go take my driving license exam, then went back home, then to uni to hand in my report.)
That was after a brief theory session. Of course. No flying without theory.
We were in a plane, an Aero Subaru Fuji FA-200. Later, when we made a turn, he said that that was when many students started screaming. Not me.
I got to fly the plane for a few minutes. I loved it! I loved the freedom of it. The three axes of rotation you have up there give you a real sense of freedom.
I also got to drive it on the runway before takeoff, but that was much harder than it looks. I was not able to drive it in a straight line because the response lags a bit (obviously) so I ended up zigzagging. I might have done better if I had known how to drive a car, perhaps. Hard to say.
That was my first – and for financial reasons – last lesson. I had the money to get the license at the time, well, just about, but I’d have lost it instantly as I wouldn’t have had the money for the hours needed to maintain it.
I also wasn’t sure if I could fit in the long treks to Lelystad airport and back all the time, by train and bus. I was working constantly-changing shifts at the reception of a large hotel in Amsterdam back then. That was very hard to combine with any kind of regularly scheduled private activity.
I did look into becoming a professional pilot (that would have taken care of the finances), but I wore glasses and that disqualified me in my home country. I’d have needed to go to pilot school in the US, where my eyesight wasn’t a problem. Yes, I looked into that too, but I couldn’t afford it. Maybe in those days, I also still subconsciously assumed that moving abroad was something that only other people did.
I settled for reading aviation magazines, reading about difficult landings (appreciating the intricacies of humidity, altitude of the airport and all that) and watching planes at airports for a few years.
Then I had myself assessed very thoroughly over the course of several days. I decided to quit my job and become a geologist (who later turned marine biogeochemist). Also very cool. I used to collect rocks and fossils and had already fantasized about becoming a marine or polar researcher when I was much younger, inspired by stories I read about oceanographic research and all that good stuff (in a magazine called KIJK*). So it didn’t entirely come out of the blue.
The outfit where I had myself tested suggested environmental science at WUR to me. I had already been based in Amsterdam for a while then, though, wasn’t too keen on relocating to Wageningen, and remembered my old interest in geology, mineralogy, crystallography and so on.
I also would have entertained the idea of becoming a vet seriously, but I mistakenly believed that I could not handle the sight of blood and other gory details. (It’s a long story; it turned out to be related to an early-childhood incident.) So I never really looked into it in those days.
Later, I found out that I had no problem with these aspects at all, after I had assisted with helping injured and ill wild birds often enough and witnessed several necropsies without ever even feeling the slightest bit queasy. I then did still explore turning myself into a vet (in the US and the Netherlands as well as in the UK), but it was much too late for that (in view of my age) and/or much too expensive.
My first flight as a passenger was from the Netherlands (Beek) to Greece and back, in 1978, before I took that flying lesson. My second flight was from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and back, also before I took that flying lesson. I think it was only my third flight that took me to Florida (and back, but only to finalize my move to Florida).
For a long time, I still continued to enjoy hanging out at airports. I like(d) the atmosphere, but I must say that I was blessed with having Schiphol, a major airport, within hop-skipping distance from my home for a long time. So many nationalities, people coming from and going to so many different places all over the world. I like that. It creates a hustle and bustle that I enjoy.
I also quite like working at coffee shops, which is for similar reasons, I guess. The hustle and bustle does not distract me at all. (Heck, I once did a retake of a statistics or math exam at university while an office relocation was going on around me.) It creates a nice balanced mixture of people’s energies, too. You don’t have pronounced skewing, like what you for instance get at hospitals or in environments with lots of deep poverty.
All of this suddenly reminds me of an aunt who passed away about eight years ago, one of my mother’s older sisters, whose first flight was in an ultralight when she was in her 70s. Her two brothers, of about the same age, also had that opportunity at the time but they both chickened out.
Now imagine what would have happened if she or I had become pilots… Our lives would have been so vastly different.
My aunt was a very intelligent woman and would have loved to go to university, but as she was a deceased farmer’s oldest daughter, that never happened. She died at the farm at which she had been born and spent her entire life, quietly bottling up all of the wishes and dreams she once had for herself.
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger? And what did you chicken out of or had false beliefs about?
Below is a video to give you an idea of what it is like to fly a small aircraft like the one I flew in.
*Holy cow, it still exists!! https://www.kijkmagazine.nl/ Back then it was for youngsters. Now it’s for adults.