Friday, August 7, 2015

So, you want to fly?

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."  -  Helen Keller

"The moment you doubt you can fly you cease to be able to do it."  -  Peter Pan

     We have a guest author for today's reflection - Rico Byam.  I met Rico aboard the Schooner Heritage out of Rockland Maine.  The lessons in his story are self explanatory.


     In over fifteen years of flying and taking people for rides, no one, other than an examiner, has ever asked to see my airman’s certificate . . .until now. There in front of me stood this petite, blonde, ten-year-old deaf girl asking me, through her interpreter, if I had a license. Her name was Ashley.

     I was working as a volunteer for Challenge Air, a non-profit organization that makes aviation experiences available to physically challenged individuals who might not otherwise have the opportunity to fly in a small plane. The local coordinator, John Lawson, had asked me to teach ground school on this beautiful, sunny, summer day in July 2000, and I agreed.  However, I was caught off guard, after one ground session, when Ashley asked if I would fly with her. I told her I would be happy to and started making the necessary preparations to leave my station and fly. But, before we headed out to the plane, she had a few questions. 

     Now, most people would be satisfied with an affirmative answer, concerning whether or not I had a license, but Ashley was thorough. She asked if she could see it. Obligingly, I pulled my airman’s certificate and flight instructor’s certificate from my wallet and showed them to her. She seemed satisfied; however, she had one more question. She signed to her interpreter, very quickly and quite intensely, something that made no sense to me, whatsoever. I looked at her interpreter and asked what Ashley wanted now. 

   “She wants to know if we can fly upside down.” 

     That was an easy one. I looked directly at Ashley and shook my head a definite “NO!” 

     She stared at me for a moment and then signed “OK.” I took that to be the end of negotiations, and we were off. 

     Ashley’s interpreter climbed into the back seat, good sport that she was, and I strapped Ashley into the right seat of John’s Cardinal. Although she could barely see over the panel in front of her, Ashley strained to see where we were and where we were going. There was no fear, just an intense desire to have the experience of flying an airplane. I was impressed with her curiosity and willingness to try something new. 

     During the takeoff roll, I motioned to Ashley to start pulling back on the yoke, as I crossed my arms over my chest. She looked at me with ever widening eyes, pointed at herself questioning, “Me?” I shook my head yes and made a gesture with my hands to show her how. She pulled timidly at first, but I kept making my signs of pulling on the yoke until she had enough force to get the airplane off the ground. I made a sign for her to look out of her side window. She seemed to stare out that window for the longest time, but when she looked back in my direction, the grin on her face would have put a Cheshire cat to shame. Ashley was flying!

     We climbed and turned and descended. I kept making signs for Ashley to push or pull or turn one way or another, all the time keeping my arms crossed over my chest, helping her with my feet. In her mind, she was doing it all, and that’s the way I wanted her to remember it. Her inability to hear was in no way an inhibition to see the world as eagles do. It made my heart soar to bring this experience to someone like her. I almost said “yes” when she asked again if we could fly upside down. I was enjoying myself as much as she was. After landing, the three of us had our pictures taken together in the plane, and then I went on to fly a couple of more folks who spend most of their time in wheelchairs. 

     With the day’s activities wrapping up, I was securing John’s plane when Ashley and her interpreter came over to say goodbye. I shook the woman’s hand and then looked at Ashley, expecting some sign language to express her gratitude. No hand signals this time. Ashley walked right up to me, grabbed me around the legs, and gave me the biggest hug she could. I didn’t need an interpreter for that one.

     For any pilot who has flown someone for the first time, there is no need to explain the feeling that goes with it. But for me, this went a step further. This child lacked the ability to hear and experience the roar of the airplane’s engine, the wind blowing past the windscreen, and the constant chatter on the radio that makes the experience complete for the hearing passenger. However, what I saw was a desire to experience

something new and not be limited by one missing sense. Her enthusiasm and joy were written all over her face and in her body language. Even her signs to her interpreter showed excitement and enthusiasm. I was thoroughly impressed with all of it, so much so that I took classes in American Sign Language. I wanted to tell more people like Ashley what it is like to fly above the earth . . . then, I wanted to show them.

Thanks Rico !!

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Make it a great day !!

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