The Oxford dictionary defines an airfield as “a place where aircraft operate.” I define an airfield as a place where people come to dream.
Think about it. You’re a student pilot and you drive out to the airfield where you take lessons that will enable you to master that cantankerous old 150 and make it stay in the air just where you put it. You stare at the aeroplanes already aloft, at students already bouncing around the circuit and what do you do… start dreaming it’s you up there. You can see in your mind’s eye exactly what they are seeing and feel what they are feeling. Maybe a bigger, faster aeroplane than the one you fly thunders into the sky. In an instant you are flying it, your hands resting surely on the controls. That, my friend, is dreaming.
Maybe you haven’t started flying lessons yet. Strangely your car just arrives at the airfield on fine sunny days with your sitting at the wheel with no idea how you got there. You sit and watch and listen, dreaming of the day you can find the money to join those lucky enough to have the wherewithal to actually realise their dreams. That is also dreaming.
Then again maybe you are a qualified private pilot, who has just managed to pay his credit card off after two years of flying lessons. You climb out of the rented Cessna you just spent half an hour flying nowhere in and look across at the guy climbing into his own aeroplane and heading off to some far-flung weekend destination with his family. You smile and close your eyes a little and instantly you are him, using your personal aircraft like a mere mortal uses his car. Your kids are chattering excitedly as they load their Bananas in Pyjamas backpacks into the baggage compartment, rejoicing in the prospect of a day spent flying. That, my friend, is also dreaming.
Airfields are really fields of dreams. Every step of aviation involves dreaming of reaching the next stage. We dream of starting to learn to fly until the day arrives when the excuses we built as to why we couldn’t learn get drowned by the realisation that we can’t continue to really live until we do learn. At that point most of us say to hell with what it costs. It stops being about expense and starts being about returns.
The dream of flight starts to live.
I spent a whole childhood dreaming of the day I would fly. The 15 km ride on my battered pushbike to the nearest airfield was a small price to pay for the chance to sit at the end of a runway and watch real aeroplanes flying circuits, their engines making a sweeter song than any band of the day. I used to sneak into the hangar and run my hands down the side of the Auster that served as the main training aircraft, feeling the strong steel frame beneath the fabric. The flight controls and instruments were old friends, their names and functions as familiar to me as the 12 times table I had just learned at school.
I had my first joyflight in a light plane when I was six. I didn’t fly in one again until my first flying lesson at age 18. Yet in the intervening 13 years I must have flown a thousand hours in my mind, replaying that joyflight in the minutest detail. The sight of the wheel leaving the ground, the pilot’s feather-light touch on the controls, the roar of the engine and the feeling of elation at knowing that I was flying. It all combined to form the basis of my dream.
The time spent dreaming about flight starts the process where each of those dreams can become reality. I learned to fly many years ago and after moving through a variety of ratings and flying adventures finally bought my first aeroplane, a C-150. I couldn’t really afford it, and I had a wife at the time who didn’t share my vision for what was over the horizon. But I dreamed and it became true. That was 15 years ago.
Today I still own an aeroplane, though it now has four seats. Wife V2.0 is a pilot and so we spend the happiest weekends of our lives taking our daughter to far-flung places just so we can all share the magic of flying. We have to live cheaply to do it. But the sight of the sun rising over the cowling, throwing golden light on my 8-year-old daughter in the back seat, or of birds on the wing below me in the still morning air, makes me realise the reality of flight is every bit as good as my dreams told me it would be. That has to be a great thing!