In the summer of 1943 (when I am five), Dad has his pilot’s license and the use of a single propeller, two-seater plane. He is a bear of a man–burly, strong, and capable of deep growly curses when things don’t go as planned. He sings in the shower and whistles as he dresses for the day.

On Sunday afternoons, Mom, Dad, my brother, Ben and I drive to the local airport, a single hangar and a landing strip located in the section of the rich farmlands in Southern Pennsylvania that we call home. Dad flies my brother and me in turn around the countryside.

I love sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, next to Dad, looking out the front and side windows, swooping over the Pennsylvania farmlands, gazing on geometrically shaped fields and pastures, and following the interweaving paths of two-lane roads snaking through the countryside. The noise, so loud it’s impossible to talk, only increases the drama as Dad and I smile and point, mouthing words like “look” or “wow.” Coming in for a landing feels like tumbling out of a Technicolor film into the browns and grays of everyday life.

In contrast, I experience my first transatlantic flight in 1959 at the end of a trip to Europe as very scary. To get there, my friends and I take a Dutch student ship to Rotterdam. The flight home from the UK to New York City requires 24 hours air time. Are we competing with Charles Lindberg’s first transatlantic flight time in 1927?

When our plane lifts off, waves of anxiety overtake me as the monster steel bird plows through clouds and blue sky hour after hour. How can such a mammoth machine possibility stay airborne for this length of time? We make a stop midway in Newfoundland to refuel (and for me to get relief from my panic). Another endless twelve hours and we arrive safely in New York City.

1908, Dad’s birth year, is just five years after the first successful flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. By most accounts America’s love affair with flight begins with the Wright brothers. I can picture Dad as a kid searching the sky at the first sound of a motor overhead. Does he wonder what down below looks like from up above? There would have been few if any photos available at the time. My hunch is he fantasized early on that someday he would pilot a flying machine. What luck that he did and I got to live the fantasy over weekends until his license expired in 1950 and he didn’t renew.

But the fantasy hasn’t ended. In my imagination, I can still lift off in a single engine, two-seater coupe, with sky above and land beneath, unfurling their beauties, scene by scene, me next to Dad, piloting our way through the adventurous life.