For my 40th birthday, my wife gave me an inspired gift -- an "immersion" first flight lesson, and the tacit permission to try out flying as a hobby.  Earlier today, I successfully completed that first flight.

The lesson took place at Chicago Executive Airport -- still known as Palwaukee to those of us from around here.  Palwaukee Flyers is one of several flight schools that operate at the airport.  They offer three approaches to starting down the path of learning to fly.  Deborah opted to enroll me in the "downtown adventure" -- an hour's worth of flying time in a Cessna C150, and some associated instruction.

I've been excitedly nervous heading into today.  I've had what we could call "mechanical challenges" when learning other forms of transportation.  In drivers education class back in high school, I was the one who got behind the wheel the first time and set the car lurching in reverse without holding the brake down.  Yes, it's true, it's because of me (and other nervous or clueless drivers) that all cars in the US are now required to have a foot on the brake before shifting into forward or reverse gear.  In 2001, I allowed myself to be convinced to try out riding a moped -- and ultimately ended up with stitches and in hospital for five days.  I promised myself "older and wiser" today, and that I would carefully observe, learn, and control.

It turns out I need not have worried.  With my instructor Jimmy -- who by his own admission was slightly more than half my age -- by my side, I apparently executed a flawless takeoff from Palwaukee runway 34 to the north.  Jimmy manned the throttle while I had the yoke, lifting and pointing us in the direction of Lake Michigan and our journey south towards the Chicago loop.  We flew at 2700 feet about as far south as McCormick Place, then I turned us around.  Jimmy took the controls while I snapped a few photos of the magnificent Chicago skyline, then I started us back towards the airport.  For landing, we again teamed as I pointed us down, seemingly towards an apartment complex, while at about 10 seconds to go Jimmy took the controls and banked us in for a smooth landing.

Now, I will not allow this to get to my head, but I have to say -- the basics were a lot easier than I anticipated.  It is not like driving a car -- the movements are much smaller and quicker.  It was not as precise as commercial aviation -- we didn't have to stay at exactly 2700 feet as we floated along, or on a particular exact heading.  Air traffic control guided us upon takeoff and landing, of course, but we didn't have to sequence behind anyone, and there was no rush to get off the runway upon landing to make way for the next flight.  Jimmy had, for this initial flight, told me not to worry too much about the dashboard of gauges and readouts -- obviously altitude and speed were critical, but I didn't have to worry about keeping "the ball in the middle" as several pilots had coached me.  I learned how to use the pedals to taxi the plane, and in some ways this was harder than keeping it aloft.

So, having successfully completed my first flight, now what?  Well, flying is admittedly an expensive hobby to get started in -- but in some ways, no different than golf, skiing, boating, or other recreational activities.  If I am going to get into it, it's going to be a long-term investment -- the baby due next month is clearly going to be much more of a short-term priority.  But the bug has bitten, and bitten hard.  I have talked about wanting to learn to fly for at least five years.  It seems classically one of those things that one does "before it's too late".  Thus, now is the time.  I will be back in the air again, soon, and I don't just mean as a passenger on a 747.  Because even as much as I fly in my daily work -- there is still much more of this land to explore.  And there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing it out the front windshield.

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