The Magic of Flight

by Eric Alan
December 17, 2017
The Magic of Flight
The Magic of Flight

As countless people prepare to endure airport indignities during the holidays, it’s worth remembering that flying is magic. That is still true, in my view, no matter how many times I have to take off my shoes, get inappropriately patted down, and arrive early for delayed flights that conspire to steal my luggage. Those hassles are merely the price of soaring, after all. They are not flying itself.

For all of the flight’s side effects and consequences, I’m grateful to live in a time in which looking down on the beautiful earth from thirty thousand feet is so commonplace that it’s taken for granted. Across two hundred thousand years of human history, it’s only been the past few decades in which humans in great numbers have streaked across the sky, able to gaze down in wonder. Even the Wright Brothers, with their grand airborne dreams of a century ago, surely never imagined it would so soon be this way. We are the few who are living in that time, and even in endless security lines, I remember we are lucky. 

Perhaps I remember because of my background. My mother was a pilot who learned to fly before she could drive. She was doing barrel rolls, Immelmann turns and other aerobatics in open cockpit planes in the 1940s. She won the Powder Puff Derby—the national women’s air race—in 1952. One of my first memories is of being in the back seat of a small airplane she was piloting, banking over Southern California and looking down. I was hooked young on the magic of flight.

I then grew up wanting to be an astronaut. I wanted to take the next step, and explore the infinite wonders beyond the skies. I wanted to be free of the repression of gravity. Like John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and others, I would’ve endured the rigors of training to be one of the ones to soar beyond the edges of the atmosphere, just to look back at our beautiful spinning sphere. 

It didn’t happen, though. Or did it? This July I wondered anew as I soared through one of the most majestic flights I’ve ever taken, feeling thirty thousand feet tall as I rode in weightless awe from Seattle to Denver, floating above a thousand miles of remarkable clouds, peaks, rivers, valleys. The sharp-edged peaks of Washington gave way to the Grand Tetons and desolate Wyoming stretches, then the summer Colorado thunderstorms. I could see the true curve of the horizon; the deep blue-black of space beyond air; the remarkable art of the immense and fragile beauty of the earth below me. It inspired the awe of silence and reverence in me.

And I didn’t have to train for decades to do it. John Glenn had to do a lot more than take off his shoes and show his ID a few times to get there. All I had to do was pay a few hundred bucks and endure a few minor hassles. The legroom wasn’t great; but neither was it in those cramped space capsules and on the Gemini and Apollo missions, no flight attendant ever came down the aisles to offer a free beverage and a small packet of almonds. 

Yes, flying is magic for those of us without wings—and perhaps even for those with wings as well. It is a miracle, these hours of respite from the tyranny of gravity. I celebrate again in silence on the next flight until the wheels gracefully, magically, softly touch down.


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You are such a talented writer, Eric! Your description gave me
“Goose bumps”. I suspect it is because you see what angels
See! Thank you for a “heavenly” perspective. Joycej5

How true! I marvel at the view & sheer magic of being up above the world each time I fly! Delayed flights, line ups are all worth it to me!

So true! I am constantly amazed by all the complaints I hear from people about the travel experience. While it's not always smooth, the sheer fact that we soar through the beautiful skies over a wonderful planet is still unfathomable to me, for all the science behind it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eric!

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