Pretty much all the way through high school, my Sunday evening activity was playing Microsoft Flight Simulator on my home computer. I would spend hours on it. My hub was Merrill C. Meigs Field (pictured below), the legendary airfield on Lake Michigan in Chicago, which sadly was destroyed very suddenly by Mayor Daley.
I started out slowly - computer games have never been a forte of mine. Most of the flights I ran were between Meigs and O'Hare. But, as I slowly improved, I started running flights to Grand Rapids, MI, Detroit, MI and Toronto. I was happy as a clam.
Sure, I could have spent all that time studying or dating or improving my baseball swing or doing a whole assortment of other activities. Maybe all those other activities would have been more productive, but there is no way anybody could have changed my mind at the time.
By my senior year I was working at the District Attorney's Office and I had saved up a little money. I saw an ad in the Fort Collins Coloradoan for a $49 introductory flight at a flight school based at the Fort Collins/Loveland Airport. I decided to drive down to the airport and sign up for the flight.
The introductory flight was going to be conducted on a Cessna 152 - like this one:
It is the same plane that I had spent so much time with on Microsoft Flight Simulator. I got to talking with the pilot who was going to take me up, and I started babbling about all I knew about the Cessna 152, and once I got into the cockpit I kept going on about all the instruments that I recognized. The pilot seemed impressed and said he would let me taxi the plane out to the runway and play around in the air more than the others he had taken up.
True to his word, he let me taxi the plane to the runway, which was very challenging because on the computer you do that with the arrows, and in the real thing you do it with pedals. Admittedly, I did not do too well with the taxiing.
Once in the air, though, I was a superstar. The pilot let me fly, take turns ... he even made me take it out of a stall!!! A lot of times when I am a baseball game I think what it must be like for the batter to step in to bat for the first time as a professional and think, "This is what my dream looks like." And then they get their first hit, and they feel the ball fly off their bat, and they must think, "This is what my dream feels like." The crowd cheers them on, and they know, "This is what my dream sounds like."
Well, that's what that flight was for me. I just kept looking at the control panel, out the windows, and even over at "my" co-pilot, and thinking, "This is what it looks, feels and sounds like to fly a plane." And, in many ways, I owed that moment to all to those Sunday evenings playing Flight Simulator in my room.