Friday, January 12, 2007

Mothers, let your children fly!

Until I was 19 years old my life was entirely and single-mindedly devoted to a single goal. I wanted to fly for a living. Airplanes ruled my thoughts from my earliest ages and nothing I had experienced even remotely compared to the feeling of excitement, power, control and freedom that came with piloting an aircraft thousands of feet in the sky.

I was so completely enrthalled with flying that I didn't bother to wait until I was an adult like most people. Instead, I started pilot training at the local airport when I was 13 years old.

In Canada there is an organization called the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. For those completely unfamiliar, picture Boy Scouts with rifles and airplanes. Almost exactly that. Boys and girls 12-18 meet weekly, receive training in various subjects including leadership, aircraft, civics and ever important skills like marching and standing at attention. Some weekends there would be camping and during the summers there were camps from 2 to 7 weeks long.

It's during each year's summer camps that about 1% of cadets get the chance to get licenses for powered airplanes or gliders (sailplanes).

When I joined at 13, I was much too young to attend such a camp. But I wasn't too young to start preparing! One of the other regular Air Cadet activities is to take the kids flying. Specifically, gliding. In 3-4 spots around the province there are Gliding Centres. Various Squadrons of cadets showed up each weekend and each person usually got two rides to experience flying and all that goes with it.

The instructors who train pilots over the summer were some of the same pilots taking the cadets for their "familiarisation flights". A lucky cadet gets one or two such days at the Gliding Centre each year.

I went almost every weekend.... for 4-5 years.

You see, gliders have a distinct lack of engine. They are pulled into the air via a rope behind a "tow plane". And on the ground they are entirely handled via the muddy boots of volunteers. When I glider landed long I would be in the group that sprinted (jogged) down the long runway to help the pilot and passenger walk the plane back. When the tow plane would land there was always a flurry of activity as a glider would be rolled in place behind it, connected to the rope, etc..

A person stands on the glider's wingtip during takeoff. They pass signals (like "take up the slack in the rope") between the glider and towplane pilots. And they hold the wings parallel to the ground for the first few (slow) feet during the take off. It's all a bit aircraft-carrier-like when I think back on those weekends. Teams running around, moving about, each with a coordinated task to perform. And lots of aircraft coming and going.

So trained volunteers were a commodity that was prized by the instructors/staff. I didn't get to go flying every weekend I volunteered. But that was noticed and rewarded.

And thus, starting at the tender age of 13, I grew up by spending my weekends at the airport. Flying.

By the time I was 17 I had attended the 6 week summer camp and recieved my glider pilot's license. At 18 I attended the 7 week camp for my private pilot's license (single engine, day). And when I was 19 the Air Force accepted me into the Royal Military College and offered me an officer's commission... which I declined.

And that, is a whole other story.

1 comment:

IDiveAtNight said...

The title of this post "Mothers, let your children fly!" was of course inspired by my parents. All those cold winter trips to the airport at 8am Sunday morning were thanks to my parents who never once complained or (openly) worried about their child playing with airplanes. Thanks guys!

Thanks for the input on topic selection Monika. Clearly there are a few new topics to choose from.