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Giving Thanks

One day in September years ago, my wife Janet asked me what I wanted for my birthday. For some reason I still don't understand I replied, "How about a glider ride?" So, late one afternoon at a small gliderport in Northern California's wine country, I received my first ride in a small aircraft. Gliding almost silently over the rolling hills and forests of that beautiful country in the warm, raking light of early evening was a revelation. I was bitten. Bad. Two weeks later, I was back at the gliderport taking lessons. Seven months after that, I was a Private Pilot with a glider rating.

This Thanksgiving, I feel like writing a post about my gratitude for the amazing privilege of flying small aircraft. I need to start with my wife. Not only was it her gift that first introduced me to the joy of flight, but she's been unfailingly supportive throughout my pursuit of multiple certificates and ratings. She's never begrudged the time or money this training has required and I'll be forever grateful for that.

For that matter, I'm grateful that I've been blessed with the resources to pursue this training. I don't accept the characterization of flying as a "rich man's game," but there's no question that it takes considerable cash and a substantial time commitment. I'm very lucky to have had enough of both (sometimes just barely) to keep me flying.

Of course, none of it would have been possible without the skills and dedication of my flight instructors. They taught me what I needed to know when I needed to know it. They instilled in me not just skills, knowledge, and judgment, but a respect for the craft of flying that I appreciate more and more as time goes by.

They also introduced me to the aviation community and the amazing support it provides for all of us aviators. From the social nature of glider flying, with its cooperative glider rigging, towing, and land-out retrieves to the camaraderie of my airplane flying club, I can't calculate how much I've learned from my fellow aviators. Besides, they're just great people to hang out with at a barbecue or at the hangar while elbow-deep in an engine cowling.

As for those airplanes, I'm frequently grateful for the skills and foresight of the engineers who designed them to fly so reliably, sensibly, and easily. They really are marvels of both form and function that a pilot can grow to love and take into the air with confidence.

And whenever we take them into the air, we rely on the competence and professionalism of the air traffic controllers who do so much to help us keep the dirt out of the cowling and the paint where it belongs. My experience with these folks has been consistently positive and enjoyable. They make getting around the sky as easy and safe as possible.

The very fact the we're legally able to get around the sky in our aircraft is a small miracle in itself, because that's not the case in many places in the world. I'm extremely grateful for the freedom to fly, and for the dedication of organizations like AOPA, EAA, and SSA to preserving that freedom.

Ultimately, the sensation of freedom is one of flying's most compelling experiences. Soaring above our beautiful Earth at the low altitudes that our small aircraft fly allows us to experience our world in a completely unique way. Whether we're traversing a spectacular mountain range, gazing down at golden fields in the red-orange light of sunset, or just circling over our house, the privilege of that perspective is perhaps what I'm most grateful for.

For me personally, it all traces back to my wife's gift of a glider ride. It's not an overstatement to say that it changed my life.

Thanks, babes. I owe you one.

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