Reader question: have you ever experienced aviation nirvana?

Sun over clouds
What is aviation nirvana?

Many pilots describe the perfect flight as a near spiritual experience: “that was a little slice of heaven up there today!” Whether it’s a first solo, a day spent flying seaplanes, or just a peaceful sunrise flight, flying really can change your mood and even your outlook on life.

This month’s reader question asks whether you’ve ever experienced something like this – what we are calling aviation nirvana. We don’t mean just a flight well flown or a fun trip, but a truly perfect aviation moment. Was it the airplane that made it special, or the people? Did it even involve flying?

Add your comment below.

12 Comments

  • Here’s an odd aviation nirvana story since it took place in a car. This happened about 25 years ago, and I was in Oshkosh for the show, and was driving to Green Lake, Wisconsin, to meet someone for dinner. I was on a two-lane road with only an occasional car in sight. It was getting to be dusk on a perfect summer evening. I had the car window down, not even air conditioning on. I was thinking how peaceful things were on this drive, how solitary, and how different from where I live in New York City.

    Just then, off to my left side, I saw two Staggerwings flying side by side headed for Oshkosh. It seemed like a timeless moment.

    There is a classic time travel novel called Time and Again where you are able to go back in time if you surround yourself with a view that matches the era you want to return to and I would think of that from time to time when I’d see a view that had no evidence of the current year.

    At that moment, it could have been the 1930s as there was nothing else to see (not even electric poles) other than the corn fields and these two beautiful airplanes. I can close my eyes all these years later and see that view again. If time travel were possible, I would have been transported and, rather than meeting my friend, I’d be meeting Walter Beech for dinner and telling him how beautiful his airplane is.

  • A flight that stands out to me as a nirvana-like experience was an early memorial day morning flight with my dad, son, and uncle. It was a picture perfect 11 mile flight to a green grass strip. It was the kind of morning the air is so solid it even sounds different as the airplane passes through it. My two year-old son and I were in our Cessna 120, my dad was in our flight school Citabria, and my uncle was in his RV-6 he built when I was a teenager.

    Not only was the flight itself so perfect, but I’m able to relive it over and over again. I had an Nflight cam recording the flight with audio. Dad is gone now and uncle Ron is in the nursing home with dementia. It means a lot to hear their voices as we chatted in loose formation while enjoying the freedom we were all drawn to. At one point in the audio when I state mixture rich, my two year-old says “we’re not rich are we?” When I hear it now I think none of use realized how rich our lives were at that moment.

  • One that comes to mind was back when I was doing my Instructor rating and part of the requirement was a navigation exercise where I had to precisely locate a specific farmhouse in the Australian outback. I located the farmhouse with no problems which then gave me and my examiner time to just relax and enjoy the flight home. As we neared the coast the desert gave way to increasingly green farmland and eventually as we neared the lane of entry to YBAF the landscape turned into something out of a child’s picture book – perfectly manicured farm fields and farmhouses: it was as though we were flying over the most perfectly drawn pages of a book. I can still remember that very clearly 30 years later. A sublime moment in time.

  • Last September after a 3-hour flight home from visiting my brother and his family, I arrived at my home airport just before sunset. Naturally, the sun was very low on the horizon and I landed on Runway 9.

    As I chased and finally caught my sun-induced shadow, I absolutely greased the landing!

    For that brief moment, I believe there was Aviation Nirvana!

  • It was my first night landing on an aircraft carrier. I was carrier qualifying flying the A7E. It was also the first time to fly over the ocean at night. I departed NAS Cecil Field in Jacksonville Fl and headed out to the USS Eisenhower (the Eisenhower was brand new at the time) about 100 miles out in the Atlantic. As I left the coast I was struck by how black the ocean is at night. There was no light anywhere, no moon, no stars, no light on the water. Anyone who has flown over the water at night knows what I’m talking about! For a few minutes it was just me and the airplane, Nirvana! And then the fun began, but that’s another story.

  • My most recent Nirvana flight experience occurred while performing safety pilot duties for a flying buddy in his RV-7. The weather at our home airport was 2000 broken and as we approached our destination airport the clouds became multi-layered, the Olympic Moutains came into view between the layers, views of the waters and islands of Puget Sound were present as we flew through various clouds. The air was smooth and once we made the turn for home Mt. Rainier towered above us. Absolute Nirvana.

  • In 40 years of GA, the one I remember took place in the summer of 1995 on a solo night flight from the East Coast to Chicago. Suddenly, I was aware of the comet Hale Bopp dead ahead. I told center I was leaving the frequency for a few minutes and then doused all the lights in the cockpit. Damn but that thing was stunning.

  • I distinctly remember my moment of aviation Nirvana, even though occurred 40+ years ago. I grew up in a family of modest means, my job did not require travel, and as a result, I had never been in an airplane, even in my late 20s. Then one fall Sunday afternoon I went to the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealton, Virginia. The Flying Circus puts on an airshow flying beautifully restored classic aircraft. They also sold rides in these aircraft. I took a ride in a WACO UPF-7 open cockpit biplane. It was a life-altering event. I remember the sense of speed, the scent of cut grass over the fields, seeing the world from the vertical dimension, and the mild g-loads as the pilot did steep turns and wingovers. It was exhilarating! About 3 months later I began my ground school and private pilot training. I have about 4,000 hours now, and have had many great experiences in flying, but nothing can match that Nirvana moment in the UPF-7.

  • Flying a charter out of San Francisco to Sedona, AZ late one clear winter afternoon, we descended from the west a few minutes before sunset during what photographers call the magic time of day. About 100 miles from Sedona at 20,000 feet the sun reflecting off the cliffs east of Sedona cast its magical spell to create the “Red Rocks of Sedona.” The two of us sat in silence observing the beauty of the scene before us.

  • Flying a charter out of San Francisco to Sedona, AZ late one clear winter afternoon, we descended from the west a few minutes before sunset during what photographers call the magic time of day. About 100 miles from Sedona at 20,000 feet the sun reflecting off the cliffs east of Sedona cast its magical spell to create the “Red Rocks of Sedona.” The two of us sat in silence observing the beauty of the scene before us.

    • For years, I worked with a National Geographic photographer who called that time “liquid light.” It does wonderful things for skintones.

      Another photographer taught me the trick that if you hold your right hand out in front of you, sideways, fingers pointing left, with the “bottom” of your index finger against the horizon, for each finger’s width between the horizon and the setting sun, you have 15 minutes left of available light. Try it as it’s amazingly accurate.

  • A few years ago, flying a Skyfox Gazelle ultralight back from somewhere or other to my home airfield near Melbourne one evening, I was slowing down descending under the Melbourne Airport Control Area steps when I happened to look out to my left and saw a flock of maybe six or seven large birds flying alongside. I’m not sure how close they were, but it seemed like they were only a few feet away.
    They continued their flight next to me, beautiful and graceful, for what seemed like a few minutes (but was probably a lot shorter), and it felt like I was almost a part of their formation, then they turned as one, and flew away.
    It was quite amazing and unforgettable, and reminded me who are the real masters of the air….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *