Still Finding Thanks
November 1, 2020
Most of the articles I’ve read throughout the year have discussed the current COVID pandemic at length, and rightfully so – this virus has affected the lives of nearly every person worldwide. The year 2020 has been filled with shutdowns, travel restrictions, and many other challenges to daily life while our time has been spent focusing on case counts and hospital capacity, keeping a hopeful eye toward recovery.
Our aviation community, like so many others, was impacted heavily. Mass groundings of commercial traffic left much of the sky empty. Most of our aviation-themed events were canceled including AirVenture and even our own GMAG here in Minnesota, leading us instead to rely on our memories of the events of years past.
However, November is the month of Thanksgiving. While this year we may need to dig a little harder to find the bright spots, I think it is healthy for us to pause and find the silver linings around us.
On the personal side, 2020 was still a very eventful year. On what was a cold 8th of February, I achieved my childhood dream and obtained my private pilot certificate, officially accomplishing a lifelong goal in joining the airborne community was an effort that began 23 years ago.
In 1997 during my senior year in high school, my aspirations to be a pilot were met with a large obstacle from the FAA as they denied my third class medical certificate. A childhood injury from my first attempt at roller skating left me with stitches and a scar in the back of my head that, in a nutshell, rubbed against my brain and triggered a seizure. After several medical scans, I was placed on a medication to regulate the electrical impulses in my brain until the scar was gone. However, that medication was on the FAA’s “no-no” list and rendered me unable to qualify for my medical until I had been off of it and seizure-free for 10 years.
A new round of medical scans followed after the FAA rejection, with the doctors assessing that the scar had since disappeared and my brain was functioning normally, but the FAA denied the appeal – I would not qualify for a 3rd class medical certificate until the age of 27. To say it was devastating would be an understatement - I still have the rejection letters.
When I finally reached the age of 27, I was freshly married and raising a young family with no time or money to spare for flying. But years later with the kids in high school and a newly minted medical certificate in hand, at the age of 40 I decided to once again take the plunge and learn how to fly.
One of the unique elements of my flight instruction was the instructor himself – when I was first learning how to fly in North Dakota during the 1990’s, I flew often with an instructor that also worked as a corporate pilot for a local business – my high school graduation gift was a right-seat experience in his Cessna Conquest as we embarked on a “maintenance flight.”
Over 20 years later, I was able to reconnect with him only to find that he had also relocated to Minnesota, a stone’s throw from where I had moved! He and I spent all of last year together, reconnecting as friends and flying as much as we could. This, to me, speaks volumes to what I know of the members in our aviation community – that after decades apart, we could pick up right where we left off without skipping a beat – he called it “divine intervention” and I can’t disagree.
Since obtaining my certificate I’ve used it to the fullest extent possible, given the circumstances. Most of my highlights of 2020 have revolved around flying – I joined a flying club and in doing so, entered a small but tightly woven group of fellow pilots that have all proven to be wonderful people. Over the summer we spent many evenings having outdoor meetings, washing the airplanes, and bonding over socially distanced breakfast and dinner.
Many first flights were also given – first to my wife, who has developed an affliction for the hundred-dollar hamburger. Also, after her first flight my youngest daughter has been completely bitten by the bug and jumps to her feet whenever I touch my flight bag. And after all these years I was also finally able to travel to my hometown of Wahpeton, ND and take my mother on her first flight. We followed the Red River that divides North Dakota and Minnesota south of Wahpeton until it opened up into Lake Traverse over her childhood home just across the border in South Dakota, right outside Browns Valley MN.
What does the future hold? My wife is now looking forward to our first extended trip next February to celebrate the one-year anniversary of obtaining my certificate.
My daughter, now a full-fledged aviation junkie, is giving me frequent excuses to slip down to the airport for a trip around the patch.
I am presently working on new ratings and endorsements. With everything going on in the world today, these simple things have easily been the highlights of the year and are plenty to be thankful for, indeed.
I’m proud to be a member of this tight-knit community that we share as pilots. From reconnecting with my instructor, making new pilot friends, and introducing my existing ties to the world of aviation, we have all found a way forward through an otherwise difficult year.
As our gaze starts to shift forward into 2021, we will continue on as we always have – developing and refining our skills, expanding our personal ties, and shifting our eyes toward the sky at the first sound of an airplane engine.
Outside of aviation, I am thankful of the era in which we live – one that is not only capable of flight, but one that is also medically advanced and willing to tackle our present threat head-on.
I sincerely hope that by this time next year, we will have even more to be thankful for.