When I was 8yrs old I took my first flight, non stop from Houston to Sacramento, on the red eye. My mother kept my brother and I awake all day, making us play outside so we would be tired and sleep on the flight. Sadly for her, that plan backfired. Seeing the Boeing 737 for the first time I was in love, she was the most beautiful thing I had even seen in my short life.
On the flight I was wide awake. Looking out the window I could see all the stars in the Universe, well my small Universe. There was no way I could sleep. A flight attendant seen my excitement and, being this was the 80's, asked if I wanted to see the cockpit. I jumped out of my seat and waited for her to catch up. I was not able to go inside the small cockpit but I did get a good look at the instrument panel. I was in heaven. I announced to the flight attendant that I was going to be a pilot someday. When we landed she handed me a pair of plastic wings and said she would see me around in the air.
Three years later I found myself in California visiting family once again. One day my aunt rented Top Gun, the Navy's biggest recruiting commercial. I have always loved the Navy ever since my Uncle, a nurse in the Navy, took me to see The Hunt For Red October and gave me all his Tom Clancy books. Not knowing any details about Naval Aviation I absorbed every line of the movie. I took everything as real. I knew what kind of pilot I wanted to be.
While my little brother and cousins had bought Matchbox toy cars I bought jet aircraft. I had every aircraft from Top Gun and a few other Navy aircraft. I would sit by myself and play out the movie over and over, repeating line for line, blowing the Mig 28s out of the sky. Iceman could be my wing man anytime.
As I was getting ready for high school I told my parents I wanted to attend the magnet school that revolved around aviation because I wanted to be a pilot when I graduated. Being a pudgie boy all my life, and all the stereotypes on pilots being bean poles, my parents said I could not be a pilot, I was not smart enough, because there was a lot of math involved and to be honest, I sucked at math majorly. I answered, "I don't care if I fly a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong I want to be a pilot."
After recovering from being slapped for cursing I didn't push the issue anymore but I did not give up the dream. Another aspect of being me at that age was I looked nothing like my real age. After my Freshman year I made one last visit to California, this time making it to see relatives down in San Diego as well. We went a boardwalk and the only thing I remember is there was a Navy flight simulator, giving "rides." You had to be eighteen to ride, and I figured if they didn't check my age I wasn't going to tell the truth, I just wanted to sick behind the stick and fly. When the rise was over I found out it was used as a recruiting tool and the recruiters were mad that I had pretended to be older. I didn't care because I had flown a fighter jet, well a simulated one anyway.
Over the next four years I was told over and over that I could not become a pilot, primarily because I was not smart enough. Given that it took me three years to pass basic algebra I guess I could not blame them. But what I lacked in book smarts I more than made up for in my passion for aviation. Every flight simulator game I played I aced. I felt like it came naturally to me.
I am a Naval Aviator. I kept telling myself that, I am a Naval Aviator. Everything I did I did to fly for the U.S. Navy. When I graduated high school I slimmed down, ready to join the military. My ASVAB scores suggested grunt work, not allowing for a chance to become an Officer and an Officer is what I needed to be.
A year later I found myself in a flight school that would allow me to get a degree in aviation and a degree meant OCS (Officer Cadet School). I began to absorb everything again, despite my lack of math skills navigation came easy to me, being a pilot would not be a problem. My flight instructors were another matter.
I grabbed the mechanics of flight but in the air it was a different story. I was trying to do everything I was being told on how to fly but inside my instincts were telling me something different. later I found out I was "flying by the seat of my pants," which meant I did everything my feel and not my instruments told me. that type of flying is highly discouraged and I thought I would flunk out and prove everyone right until my instructor decided to let ME fly the aircraft.
I felt so free. I took off and did everything I was suppose to, not a clean as he would have liked but still, I was flying. We were not close to my first solo, however, when we were going over full stops I thought I did something wrong because he got very quite. I sat there is silence waiting for him to order us home and I would fail another flight. Instead he opened the door and unplugged his headset.
"I want two touch and gos then one full stop to pick me back up."
When he slammed the door I was gripped with fear, this was it, do or die. I pulled out onto the runway and took off. As soon as the wheels lifted off the ground and I was airborne I told myself once more, "I am a Naval Aviator."
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