Monday, January 03, 2011


Before Christmas I knew that Siobhan had spent most of her gift budget on a single gift, and that it was one she could pick up locally from work, and which fit into her backpack. I tried not to think too much about it because I didn't want to figure it out and ruin the surprise, but I couldn't help wondering a little before I stopped myself. I had thought perhaps some kind of electronic gadget, based on the fitting into her pack part, but the area near her office isn't a great place for shopping for such things. That's about as far as the automatic rumination of my brain could get before I stopped it.

I needn't have worried. If I had wracked my brain I would never have guessed what she actually came up with, and I still can't guess how it occurred to her. What she actually got me was flying lessons: specifically, since lessons in powered airplanes are too expensive, glider flying lessons.

They came with a quite extensive and dense book to learn about flight, which I've started reading. The book is intended as a learning guide for those who seek to get an FAA flight license for soaring, so it has rather a lot more than one likely needs to study for a single lesson. There are dozens of pages about the IFS system, reading maps, the composition of the atmosphere, the physics of flight, and dozens of other topics covered in agonizing detail. The glossary alone is six pages. The subject matter is interesting although it's also quite dry.

The idea that I'm actually going to be able to go for a sailplane flight is something that is probably going to take a while to sink in. That these things happen in summer helps make it feel so far away that it doesn't quite feel real. This is the kind of activity that doesn't sneak up on me; I think about it long in advance in the process of deciding whether it's possible and making preparations, so by time it needs to feel real it already does. I suppose when spring comes and I start to try to set a date and make the arrangements, by that time it'll be feeling real, but right now, it keeps coming back to me as a surprise.

Learning to fly has always been one of those things on the list of what I would do if I won the lottery, but pretty far down. Ensuring a financially sound future and sharing with those in need are much higher on the list. (Though a cool two million dollars would secure a sound enough financial future that I could work towards it anyway.) Owning an airplane is fantastically expensive. It's not the initial purchase so much; a two-seater prop plane costs an amount similar to an automobile. It's more about how much it costs to store, maintain, and operate it. Flying lessons are expensive enough that I would never treat myself to them if I didn't have a prospect of being able to use them, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be fun, just not something I could justify treating myself to.

But that doesn't mean they wouldn't make a great gift. Even so, powered airplane lessons are very expensive, but glider lessons are, I was told, much more affordable, and a quite similar experience, or at least similarly exciting. I had never really thought about the possibility, and never considered the idea of spending the money on it, but somewhere in the back of my mind I always wished I'd have a way to try it out, the money to spend on it and the time to invest. But so far back in my thoughts that I am duly impressed at Siobhan for making the leap I never did to considering it a possibility, and thus surprising the heck out of me with the gift.

Reading the book will be a dry but interesting pastime as the winter passes by. Perhaps it will inspire me to dig out my flight simulator, hook it up to the TV for some really amazing immersion, and play with it again in anticipation. By time the summer rolls around, hopefully I'll have absorbed all of this and be ready to get the most out of my lesson. Siobhan assures me that continued lessons are affordable, so perhaps this will be the start of a new hobby. But even if I stick to just one, I'm sure it'll be an experience to remember.

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