They flew because they could

Courtesy Photo William Kelley’s camp is set up next to his plane at the airfield in Beatrice, Nebraska in 1972.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the fourth in a series of stories adapted from William Kelley’s book, “Wind Socks, Grass Strips, and Tail-Draggers.” Last week, Kelley ruminates on flying as philosophy.

The trip was near.

Recollections of my first trips to the airport played out in my mind as I finalized Alaska plans.

People who flew impressed me. It was their attitude. Pilots flew because they believed they could. They didn’t stand around and look at the sky, at others who flew, and say, “I can’t do that.”

They did it.

One of the first things I noticed about the people at McKinley Airport, when I began instruction, was their attitude toward life. Whether a charter pilot, instructor, student, or a salty private pilot, they all shared a distinct personality trait: They were positive. They were doers. They did it because they could.

I have seen much the same attitude among people who ride motorcycles. They have a positive attitude toward life. They are not a bunch of evil people, as some in society would have us believe.

It took me a long time to put my finger on it. It didn’t matter what other paths each walked in life: Doctor, lawyer, truck driver, taxi mechanic, teacher, or farmer, there was a common understanding.

As time passed, I learned the trait was A ZEST FOR LIFE.

The desire to challenge, work hard, and succeed. They reminded me of the little red train engine that repeated through adversity, “I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.”

In the beginning, I think I wanted to fly because it was physically impossible for humans to fly.

“If man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings” was a statement made by many land-lovers.

Or they could have used my father’s approach: “I want to keep both feet on the ground. Birds were meant to fly. Insects were made to fly. Man was not meant to fly.”

So I accepted the challenge.

Once I had earned my student pilot license, the goals continued to expand. Eventually, I challenged myself in long-distance flights, flirted with weather, pushed myself to the edge in terms of my endurance and ability to fly when I wanted, regardless of conditions, instruments, or my training.

Several times, I felt I had reached the razor-sharp edge of my capabilities and come back.

There must be more.

My background led me into the study of people and their situations, cultures within North America. Usually, history and science were part of my interest, hence a double major in college.

How people made a livelihood fascinated me.

No longer was it enough just to fly, but also to meet the people and study their surroundings once I arrived.

Materials I could use to teach dominated my notes and picture-taking.

Flying across the great expanse of North America allowed me the time to piece everything together. I wanted to see nature, appreciate it, and understand it.

Check The News next week for the next installment. William Kelley was a teacher for 32 years and has been a pilot since 1966. He lives in Herron on the family farm where he was born and raised.


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