Flying Journal - The Saddest Flying Journal . .

Last month I was whining about the aggravations of getting around on crutches. Somehow none of that seems very significant now. How things can change in a year--or an hour.

Last year at this time I was writing about my first flight in a Boeing 767. I enjoyed my own GPS map of our route to London on the seat back ahead of me. I enjoyed the knowledge that we sometimes exceeded 1000 kilometres per hour. I marveled at the smooth reliability of only two engines entrusted with oceanic crossings.

What a shock to realize this September 11 that such a lovely aircraft had been used as a living missile. I haven't felt that awful numb shock since President Kennedy was shot. I know we have all had so many images and memories and emotions roiling through our minds these last weeks.

Among my jumble of thoughts and emotions was sympathy for one of my students at SMSU, an American citizen of Pakistani descent, whose cousin worked on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center and is among the missing. I am also stunned by the idea that a company could lose a thousand employees in an hour.

If an engineer set out to design a weapon to take down a large skyscraper, he or she probably could not have done better than an airliner filled with fuel. How vulnerable toys of our wealth and freedom make us.

As pilots, we have lobbied to keep our airspace as free as it was. I have warned my students--I know you wouldn't deliberately taxi your trainer in front of an airliner, but all it would take would be one well- publicized case of a VFR GA plane colliding with an airliner and we might all be flying IFR all the time like most places in Europe. Little did I know how easily and swiftly we could all be grounded, innocent and guilty alike.

I felt moved to use a line of my logbook to record the September 11 attack. Then ten days passed before another entry. The weirdest part of the FAA*s response to the crisis was how the NOTAMs changed daily, even hourly. Now that the damage had been done, all the authorities, from attorney general to local officials feel guilty they didn't do more and now crack down over- much, and very chaotically. The rules changed more than once per day. Can we fly or not?

I have a pilot who wanted to work on his BFR and IPC. The Tuesday following the attack, we decided the flight restrictions would allow us to fly an IFR flight plan between SGF and Joplin and return. Even though at the time we were not supposed to be *training* it would brush him up on his IFR skills. But in our current state of mind, post-attack, it didn't take much of a chance of thunderstorms near Joplin to scare us off.

At our September MPA meeting, Wendall Jones told us he had successfully made an IFR flight, but that the airspace was so quiet it was spooky. By Friday of the second week, more restrictions were lifted and I went down to Ozark to fly the gyroplane. I felt strange, afraid I might inadvertently do something wrong. As I pulled into the driveway at Air Park South, I could see signs and yellow ropes that had been used to close the airport. The briefers had warned us repeatedly to review the intercept procedures. Imagine F-16s trying to intercept a Cessna 150 or an 80 mph gyroplane! It was somewhat comforting to go through the familiar motions of dragging the huge old hangar doors out of the way and preflighting the gyroplane.

I adjusted the four-point harness and pulled on my helmet. So far, so good. No one came out to stop me. I taxied out, pre-rotated and took off to the north. I followed the pattern and departed from the downwind to the south. I saw a couple tractors raking hay, and new houses going up in the developments south of the airport. It felt good to fly again, but I also felt very sad as I thought of all those men, women and children, from 80 countries as well as our own, who will never have the chance to fly again.

I flew southwest a mile or so, then flew up the Finley River valley towards Ozark. I started to turn away from the city, thinking my strange craft might alarm some citizen. Then I thought, "that's exactly what terrorists want us to do, to diminish our lives and freedom." So I continued. Then I felt a surge of pride

Our gyroplane is painted blue, with red and white stripes. The people of Ozark have seen me fly over before, as they saw Dick Hill's helicopters in earlier years. Today they will know that this part of our lives is back to normal.

Since that flight, I have resumed flying with several students and given some more rides in the gyroplane. I, who have always talked about the joys of flying, have to deal with this fresh reminder that aircraft can also be used for terror and destruction. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered in this attack (including ourselves).

Fly proudly, safely, with joy.


[Copyright 2001 - Earl Holmer]

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