I love the Smell of Jet Fuel in the Morning!

OK, so it’s definitely not morning once this gets posted, nor was it a morning flight to begin with, but the sentiment is there. Some people think the perfect morning, that one where they are ready to go and possibilities seem limitless, is heralded by the smell of coffee. Some people like coffee; I like jet fuel. But I guess I should explain.

How It Started

My father was an aircraft mechanic for the US Army, so in a way, my passion for planes could be attributed purely to genetics. Indeed, he and I have spent many a May Saturday at the Langley Field air show, and that commonality of interest is something I treasure. But my flights of fancy have always gone higher: The higher the craft goes, the more interested in it I become. That is why, when I was offered a spot at the Newport News Aviation Academy for high school, I jumped at the chance. This was an opportunity for me to study something that deeply intrigued me, to connect with like-minded peers, to go visit Kennedy Space Center on a senior trip, and be surrounded, quite literally, by planes because our campus was at the Newport News International Airport. Who could not want that?

Life at Aviation

The Academy (or Aviation, as we all just called it) delivered on most of those promises. Model rockets and airplanes were built. Some students got pilots’ licenses, and at least one from each class aspired to fly fighters. Physics was taught in sophomore year. For a person aspiring to be an astronaut and partake in the ultimate form of flight, there was nothing better. In my interview, I was even asked what kind of astronomy fascinated me most.

The fact that I was the first blind student attending didn’t matter to me or the staff. Initially, some were skeptical, but I would find a way to accomplish the coursework. In this respect, being at the airport made it an even better match. When a cargo aircraft was parked right outside our cafeteria window, my friend started me at one end, told me to walk to the other, and then explained that the plane continued beyond that. Immensity such as this is best experienced firsthand versus through some random figure. On career days, aircraft of all shapes and sizes would show up, from news helicopters to Cessnas. The pilots or owners would often be more than happy to take me around their fascinating machines, pointing out interesting features or ones I couldn’t reach and letting me feel the rest from nose to tail. These accounts not only gave me an appreciation for the raw power and engineering, but also helped me in classes and in understanding the theories of flight.

So Where’s the Jet fuel?

I clearly remember one brisk fall morning in sophomore year; the physics class came to school on our day off to work on science projects. Stepping inside Aviation that day, my heart raced; I knew something exciting was about to happen. The smell of jet fuel wafted through the vents, simultaneously stimulating and sobering. Serious work took place here. Aviation also taught us that the consequences of being wrong could be fatal.

Staying Informed When you Fly

Some people may ask, “Because you know so much about aviation, doesn’t that take the fun out of flying for you?” Nope, not at all. Usually, being informed enhances the experience. Case in point: I never complain about maintenance delays, ever, because early on in my Fundamentals of Flight course, we were taught, “You can’t park an airplane on a cloud.” So I give the crews all the time they need to do their work. Delays are always inconvenient and annoying, but there are usually good reasons for all of them. To that end, I use a few apps to help me stay on top of things: FlightView being the one I’d recommend for any seasoned traveler, along with any your airline might have. Doing things via the mobile apps takes at least some of the hassle at the airport away, and ensures you always have your ticket if you have your phone.

Flight to Independence

As I write this (posting will come later), I’m currently cruising at 36000 feet on my way home from Newark, New Jersey to Denver, Colorado. Since the move to Colorado, I’ve been on planes a lot more often and it has given me some perspective. For me, flying never gets old. I love the physical aspect of takeoff, feeling that thrust and that raw power as the engines throttle up. It also gives me a chance to disconnect from the world for a little while (I do some of my best creative work while in motion). Despite all of the latest security measures that are extremely necessary but always time-consuming, despite personnel freaking out that I can walk two steps in an airport without assistance … once you are actually on the plane is where it starts getting fun. I’ve got so many stories about cool happenstances on airplanes that could be another whole post in itself–and I’m certainly not done writing about aviation. But for now, as we descend into Denver, despite all the trials and tribulations at airports these days, despite delays and weather, despite people wanting to get where they’re going in a hurry … I urge you to stop. Smell the jet fuel and the possibilities it brings for you. Marvel that you, a single human being, are about to sit down in your window seat and defy gravity and go up, up, and away!

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