Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


On Wednesday, I flew an airplane.

Not just in one, but actually held the controls, steered the craft, and directed it up and down.

A priest from the diocese was visiting to work on a project with the pastor here. One of this visiting priest's hobbies is flying. He has had a license for a few years now, and he tries to get up in the air as often as he can. I had never flown with him before, but had been waiting for the opportunity. It arrived today when he decided to fly to Eagle Butte.

After they had finished working on their project, the housekeeper, the finance officer and I all went to the local airport (Eagle Butte has an Airport. It has one runway and a small hangar. It is used for small planes like crop dusters and the like.), where we took turns circling the town in the plane. I had no intention of touching the controls when we lifted off the ground, but once we had gained altitude, the priest instructed me to take hold of the controls on my side and to try to keep the plane level. He assured me that the plane was a teaching plane (like a drivers' ed car with breaks on both sides) and that one would have to try to crash it in order to do so.

It was an odd feeling. The nose of the plane always seemed to be moving upward, and it was difficult to keep it level. I didn't like the idea of banking to the left, with my body leaning against the rather fragile looking doors. We circled around the city, and climbed high enough to see the Missouri River from the air, then we circled back toward the runway and Father took the controls again.

Flying in a small plane is much different than a passenger jet. Less speed is needed to create lift. The transition between land and air is more subtle - it hadn't the same terrifying effect that jets can have. Once airborne, one flies lower to the ground (around 1,000 feet), adding better definition to the things seen from the air. One can see easily from both sides of the plane as well as out of the front. The cows look like cows, just small and far away. The land is a green patchwork - beautiful. Landmarks are still identifiable, but only intellectually. They don't have the same value they had on land - their meaning is changed from the air. What good is it to know that the stock dam is a quarter mile from the house when one can see for hundreds of miles in any direction? Shapeless fields and bodies of water now have shapes. One does the reverse of what one does when laying on one's back looking at clouds. With a little imagination, the grasslands can become anything.

Beyond the anxiety of it, there is a certain freedom in the air. Out here, we are not watched over by radar and air traffic controllers. One just goes up and flies basically wherever one will. This kind of freedom draws all sorts of people to Western South Dakota I suppose. Pilots to the infinite uncontrolled sky, motorcyclists to the straight and endless highways, and horsemen to the grass and hills stretching from horizon to horizon.


Jinglebob said...

Wonderful! Wish I had been there. I used to want to learn to fly, but after flying in a small plane several times with different pilots, I gave up the notion. I tend to get a little air sick from looking around too much. And I bet the cost of fuel is terribly expensive.

Jeremy said...

Deacon -

An attention-grabbing opening prargraph and a poetic concluding one; masterfully done.

I wonder if you could comment further on the thrill of such an adventure, although breif - I am thinking especially towards whether you would want to try it again.

Take care, -Jeremy

Mike said...

Good for you...there are perks to being in the middle of the reservation (middle of nowhere)

Deacon Tyler said...

I'm not so sure that I want to be the pilot. I do like to be able to look around and see things from up there, though. The pilot predicts that within my lifetime, priests will have to fly between some of our parishes. Perhaps I will have no choice but to become a pilot myself.

Adoro te Devote said...

Very cool! Thanks for sharing that experience with us.

In Mexico I flew in an 8-seater Cessna from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido (so my first view of the ocean ever in my life was from the air.) I wasn't able to get a shot of the mountain in front of the plane as we took off, or as it banked, a shot of Monte Alban. But as we approached our landing, both the pilot and co-pilot invited us to get our cameras out and take a photo as it's not a view most people get to see. And of course they made sure we were quick about it so we would be belted in as we landed!

Small planes ARE an entirely different experience.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Mr. Dennis,

You really do have a way with words. Jeremy is right: quite poetic.

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