For those of us who regularly ply the airways at great altitude over seemingly featureless terrain, it's all too easy to forget that there's a whole different side to flying, a side filled with sights and wonders.
It's the side that Lane Wallace, in her new book Unforgettable: My 10 Best Flights, brings to life for us, expanding greatly upon some very magical flights, many of which she recounted in lesser detail in these pages over the years. There's no common denominator to these journeys, other than Lane, a flying machine of some description and, on most occasions, some marvelous company. Using just these elements, Lane crafts in each case a narrative that unfolds like the flight itself, delighting us with each discovery while sparking the recognition that, in our own way, we've been there too.
The author of a number of aviation books, as well as the popular column in these pages called "Flying Lessons," Lane has spent much of her time at Flying in the enviable position of getting to know the most magical sides of what pilots do. That is, in fact, exactly what this book is about. From skirting Alaskan glaciers in a Super Cub, to feeling for the boundaries of space in the U-2, to the simple joy of an impromptu yank-and-bank session over the Texas Hill Country, Lane realizes that the secret is not in the numbers but in the raw experience.
Lane starts Unforgettable with the story of her first visit to Oshkosh as a six-month private pilot and new proud owner of an old Cessna 140. The airplane was special at Oshkosh, she writes, "not in spite of [its] years and miles and patches and outdated electronics, but precisely because of them."
From that first flight she wanders the world, spending pages on a long and eventful crossing of Texas, an adventurous journey down the Baja peninsula and a harrowing tale of flying relief missions into civil-war-torn Sudan.
My favorite tale, perhaps, is that of Lane's first flight in a Piper Cub. "I could reach my hand out to the right and dip it in the currents of the sky as they streamed past us, sending eddies of swirling air through the cockpit itself. I could smell the earth below us, and watch the individual movements of the people on the ground. And yet the laws of gravity that held all the other Earthlings to the planet did not, at the moment, apply to us."
That's the feeling you'll get when you read Unforgettable, that the laws of gravity don't apply to Lane as they do to the rest of us. But thankfully, she always has an empty seat for us, and the experience, no surprise, turns out to be nothing short of magical.
Unforgettable: My 10 Best Flights ($24.95; approximately 160 pages; paperback) is published by and is available at Sporty's Pilot Shop: sportys.com; 800-776-7897.