The Joy of the Sky

What’s the best part about flying? There are as many answers to that question as there are pilots up in the sky. Some of us enjoy the freedom the sky offers – the ability to travel with minimal restrictions. Some enjoy the ability to practice the craft, to explore new maneuvers and perfect already learned ones. Some There are a few common themes to the joys the sky brings; here are a couple based on years of pondering  – and years of hangar flying gabfests.
Perhaps the best is the joy gained by a release from earth-bound worries. The end of a relationship always brings heartache and regret. My cure was working the pattern.  When I was going through a divorce a long while ago, the best way for me to keep my sanity was a lunchtime spent in a Citabria that used to be in the club. I’d ask for short approaches and try to perfect slipping turns down to the runway – a maneuver taught me by Lowell Williams, a WWII P-51 ace, with whom I’d spent not nearly enough happy airborne hours. When you’re working hard on a slipping turn, your mind can’t be focused on earthly woes, else you may come to grief. The pattern work would clear my head and let me face the facts of my sad life with a much better frame of mind. After that hour in the pattern, I was rejuvenated.
One of my Stearman partners and I had flown together on a recent weekday. His business is in a down-cycle and money worries were dogging him. After a trip over Lindbergh’s Taxiway Delta, then a half hour of trading landings on 23, he emerged from the Stearman’s cockpit like a weight had been lifted. “My mood always improves after I’ve been up in the sky,” he said.
Speaking of sky-bound joy, some of the sites seen only by pilots should rank pretty high. Groundlings in San Diego can get pretty bummed out, dudes, when the MayGray/JuneGloom overcast skies arrive. Sometimes the groundlings don’t get to see their beloved sun for days, weeks even. OMG. Those low-hanging clouds are a perfect reason to launch if you’re IFR-rated – an opportunity to add a couple of tenths of an hour to we SoCal Skies residents miniscule amounts of actual IMC. But the best part of practicing approaches is after take off when you break out on top of the cloud deck into a sparkling azure sky – it’s an instant joy fix, one the groundlings regrettably will never experience.
Sunsets offer spectacular vistas to the airborne pilot population. When I flew for Barnstorming Adventures, the sunset rides were always my favorite. Sure they came at the end of a long day of flying a noisy and breezy open cockpit biplane, but the rewards were unbeatable. Cruising offshore Torrey Pines Mesa, watching the strata in the sandstone cliffs illuminate and transform as the light from the setting sun mutated was a favorite view. Watching the downtown buildings sparkle and glisten as the sun dropped lower was another great visual. When the marine layer would prowl offshore, awaiting the temperature drop so it could pounce onto the shoreline, it was spectacular watching the sun slowly descend and the tops of the clouds pick up its golden hues. Mountains would change color with the changing light. And, as the sun dropped into the ocean, catching a burst of green flash was always a kick – and a bragging point when conversing with those not of this coast.
And speaking, er writing, of sunsets, catching a sunset as you break out underneath a cloud deck is always a spectacular sight. The startling change from gray gloom all around you, into the brilliant sunshine reflecting off the bottoms of the clouds is a marvelous moment. When you break out from under the overcast and find yourself between layers of clouds, the majesty of the sight and the variety of colors is almost overwhelming.
Sometimes rainy weather will bring vistas to which pilots are nearly the sole beneficiaries. After a solid rain storm, flying along the San Diego River Valley, north and east of the dam that forms El Capitan Reservoir, pilots will find scads of wild waterfalls that groundlings would have to hike for hours to discover. A few days after a good rain, it’s a gladdening sight to see the soft greens of newly sprouted grass on hills and valleys that had been dirt brown just prior to the rain – and only from the sky can you truly appreciate this abundance of new life.
Flying: it truly is the tonic that cures all earth-bound ills and fills a pilot’s soul with joy.