I couldn’t tell you my favourite aircraft type – how to choose? But I could immediately tell you my favourite individual aircraft: on the 14th of September 2002 a Cessna 172, N9017H, won my heart. I’m probably not alone; with over 48,000 built, the 172 is the most produced aircraft in history (I just asked Cessna so I know this figure is right).
I encountered my Skyhawk on a summer internship in the US as a local flying school was offering a half-hour taster lesson for $49. The control panel seemed somehow familiar (as a teenager I’d clocked up countless hours flying Cessnas in Microsoft Flight Simulator on my ancient PC).
As we taxied out I realised that real flight offered an excitement that simulations could not even hint at. Everything was pure sensation- every bump and movement through the seat. Pedestrian though the Skyhawk might seem to some, for the duration of two circuits and bumps I was transformed. I was Blake, the pagan bird-man from JG Ballard’s story ‘The Unlimited Dream Company’. I was a godling at one with the aircraft.
Landing was as much an emotional as a physical come-down.
I never had a second lesson; Lack of funds and my return home meant a return to silicon-bound flying. But I still smile whenever I see a 172.
Jakob Whitfield has been obsessed with aeroplanes from a very early age. He keeps an occasional blog about the history of technology at http://thrustvector.wordpress.com
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