Something that mattered

I recently joined a Toastmasters club local to me, to improve my public speaking skills. In the educational pathways available, the first formal speech one gives is the "icebreaker", in which you speak for 4–6 minutes about a comfortable personal topic. Here is my icebreaker speech, which I accompanied with a slideshow of pictures as I spoke.

Something that mattered

Thank you, Mr Toastmaster, for the privilege of letting me introduce myself to this group.

I'm going to share with you just one of many childhood interests that have played a large part in shaping who I am.

That interest is flying. Flight in any form.

C-130 Hercules It started when I was two years old, terrified of the monsters flying over our house who would eat me. Or so my parents told me; I don't remember it. We lived near the flight path of McClellan Air Force Base. My mother took me to the base to face my fears. She showed me that airplanes were machines that fly like birds, and that people fly them.
From that day, I became fascinated by anything that flies. In kindergarten I became an avid kite flyer, and throughout my youth I bought and built my own kites, like those shown here.
diamond kite bat kite UFO kite box kite

At elementary school age I built flying model planes, some gliders, some control-line engine-powered models, and in middle school my best friend and I got involved with radio-controlled airplanes.
Thermic C glider Li'l Wizard control line trainer R/C Piper Cub

Planes on my wall

I even built planes that I never got around to flying. Three of those now decorate a high wall in our home.

As a pre-teen, my family attended a party on a hilltop, from where a couple of hang glider pilots happened to be launching themselves. Pure flight. I was enthralled, even obsessed for a year or so. But it wasn't until my 30s that I could finally take one hang-gliding lesson, and that's as far as I got.
During my high school years I discovered water skiing. It's like flying over the top of the water. I did this into my 30s. And in college I took up scuba diving, which is like flying underwater.
boy waterskiing scuba diving

I was lucky to attend a high school in Texas that offered aviation classes. No actual flying; instead you learned everything needed to pass the Federal Aviation Administration written exam, which earned you an "A" in the class.

I worked to earn money for flying lessons. I flew solo in an airplane before I could drive a car — my Mom would drive me to the airport so I could fly! I earned my pilot's license just after high school. My first flight as a licensed pilot was during a vacation in Hawaii, flying my family around the island of Oahu in a rented airplane. A proud day!

These are airplanes I have flown.

My father also eventually got his pilot's license. Whenever we planned a trip, if it was cheaper to rent a small plane than to fly on an airline, we did.

I wanted to major aerospace engineering, but it wasn't offered at the university where my Dad worked (meaning I got free tuition), so I majored in physics there. I also lived with my parents, which meant I had no expenses! I took minimum-wage jobs cleaning swimming pools and working as a lifeguard to keep flying.

Cessna 150 Piper Cherokee 140 Cessna 172 Grumman Tiger Piper Tomahawk

Some of the aicraft types I flew: Cessna 150, Piper Cherokee 140, Cessna 172, Grumman Tiger, Piper Tomahawk.

While in college I learned of a glider-port near me. Gliders! Truly solar-powered flight, no engine, catching rising columns of air (called thermals) to stay aloft, and actually making it back to the airport safely. I had to try it.

I earned my glider rating after a year of training. The longest I stayed up in the air was a bit over an hour. It could have been more, but an hour was my mental limit because flying a glider is exhausting. You're constantly looking for the next thermal while making sure you can always return to the airport.

Schweizer 2-22 Schweizer 1-26

The two gliders I have flown, a Schweizer 2-22 (left) and a Schweizer 1-26 (right).

Eipper Quicksilver MX

After college, ultralight aircraft captured my interest. The one I trained on resembled a flying lawn chair. You don't need a pilot's license for these, but flying one without training will get you removed from the human gene pool.

Kolb Firestar

The best-performing aircraft I ever flew was an ultralight, called a Kolb Firestar. It did exactly what I asked of it, as if it could read my mind. To some extent, an aircraft feels like an extension of my body, but never before had I experienced that one-ness so completely as with the Firestar.

Tandem skydiving Before I left Texas, a friend invited me skydiving. I did a tandem jump with an instructor strapped to my back. That first step into the void teaches you something about yourself that can't be easily described. I recommend the experience to anyone — but only once.
MetLife blimp The most difficult aircraft I ever flew was the MetLife blimp. It looks so slow and gentle, but blimps are hard to control and they respond only grudgingly. I could never fly it straight, but those MetLife blimp pilots could fly it through a narrow mountain pass with a 100 mph tail wind and land it on a dime. Those are hot pilots, in my view.
My pullcopter

My last flight was in 1999, when I took my girlfriend up for a spin. We're now married and Darius is our son. I haven't flown since then. But Darius and I have built and flown an occasional kite, we built a water rocket together, and I recently designed and 3D printed a flying toy, which has received overwhelming positive response in the maker community.

And that, my friends, is how facing a childhood fear at an impressionable age can have a lasting lifetime effect. Thank you for listening to my story.


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