JACKIE'S LAST FLIGHT
Flying|January - February 2020
LESSONS FROM A LIFE SHARING THE AIR
Dan Richard

Few things are as rewarding for pilots as having a partner who shares our passion, sense of wonder and exhilaration. I had such a person in my life before I lost her to cancer two years ago. Often when I think of Jackie, I reflect back on memorable trips we had together. But it was our last flight that held special meaning for both of us.

I knew she was going to be right for me after my first flight with her. At the time, our relationship was just beginning and I was a certified glider pilot. I convinced Jackie to let me take her up in a two-place sailplane. I didn’t know it then, but she was a fearless flyer. I put her in the front seat and climbed in back. On that January morning in the coastal mountains of Northern California, the seasonal rains had turned the surrounding hills into their emerald-green winter colors. I secured both canopies, gave the thumbs-up to the wing runner, and then waggled the rudder pedals signaling the tow plane to begin the take off.

The gliderport in Lake County was located in a valley surrounded by rugged terrain, forested mountains, and massive rock outcroppings that are remnants of volcanic formations. It’s a place of unsurpassed beauty, not fully appreciated from the ground. As the sailplane climbed through a few hundred feet, the terrain rose into relief, and our perspective of the world was transformed. Jackie turned her head to the side, and I caught the expression on her face. It was a look of amazement, wonder and discovery. Her beautiful visage always did hold the light in a lovely way, but there was something very different about the look on her face at that moment, conveying both awe and serenity. “Yes,” I wanted to say to her, “this is what it is all about.” But I didn’t need to say it because I could tell she felt that same sense of magic. It was to become one of the many precious things we shared.

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