Every Flight Is a Gift

On this day of giving thanks, and as I get older, I know what I am grateful for as a pilot.

The fall colors in western Maryland make for a sight only pilots get to see. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

I am going to admit something that not many folks know. In fact, I’m not even sure I’ve told my husband (also a pilot) this.

After years of putting my left foot on the postage-stamp-sized “step” Cessna deemed the right balance between weight, drag, cost, and product liability on the nose of its high-wing 150s, 152s, 172s, 182s… when I came back to check out in a 172 in 2019 after a hiatus, I went to step up—and nothing happened.


I tried again, lunging at the move that would allow me to push myself up to balance my right foot on the similarly sized step on the wing strut. It was comical. The misdirected and insufficient kinetic energy almost sent me back on my teakettle.

Somewhere between age 47 and 48, and even after running my 19th marathon the previous spring, I lost enough of my explosive leg power to make me humbly reach for a nearby stool in order to check the fuel in the tanks.

If you’re not yet at this moment in time when a similar thing has happened to you, you won’t believe it ever will. And if it has already, you may be saying silently to me, “Ah, you’re still young! Just you wait…”

Everything takes more practice these days, more lead time, and more planning. More stretching beforehand, lest I pull a muscle opening up the POH. You think I’m kidding, young ones out there. I assure you I am not.

In the same vein, I really have to schedule my flights carefully to make sure they don’t get hijacked by a crazy schedule. I always followed a checklist or a flow pretty diligently—but now I take my time with it.

And while I could wax nostalgic about the times I just hopped in the airplane with a new student, or into a new airplane for a flight report, I’m actually glad for the slowing down of the process that has come from necessity.

You know why? Because now more than ever, I understand that every flight is a gift.

I just passed my third class medical again in October. I definitely took that for granted—but now I have friends my age who have been grounded by cancer, waylaid by eye problems, or sucked into the process of regaining the privilege of flying following a minor stroke.

Taking a 5-year-old on his second flight and watching the wonder, that's a gift. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

The simplest of flights triggers a deep reflection in me. Taking a young neighbor for his birthday flight. Crossing the country in an old friend of an airplane, with a good pilot friend beside me. And returning to the mountains—where my heart lives.

Returning to my mountains, that's a gift, too. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

When you sit down with your family—whether by blood, marriage, or choice—this Thanksgiving, add to your blessings the gift that for me gives life part of its meaning: the ability to soar through the sky and see the view from above.

Flying an old friend, with a good friend, that's another gift for sure. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

I'd love to hear about the flight you consider a gift this past year... please share them with me at julie@flying.media.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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