Features

Race Empress of the Air

Bessie Coleman’s real life made her something larger than most Blacks and most women could imagine themselves to be, and her fictionalizing made her large life larger. Blackness had become something ultra-modern with Coleman, a meta-fiction, the mastery of fabrication, of image, for public consumption. She was the heroine of velocity. She ushered Black people into the age of speed.

Flying Home

My father was there, the photograph says to me directly. But he was also not there. Not only not visible in the photograph—which, taken from the wing, shows no hunched shoulder or flying cap to indicate the person pressing the firing button—but not there at all. Concentrating, yes; in fear for his life, yes. Supremely there, of course, while the shipboard German gunners sprayed flak at him and he dropped his powerful twin-engine airplane into a dive. But also absent, in a reverie.

Connecting Flights

As I write this essay, I am listening to Bird’s records. I love the inventiveness, the breakneck pace, and the flights of fancy of his melodies. I admire his daring and ingenuity, just as I do the Wright brothers’ daring and ingenuity: over a century after they occurred, it is thrilling to read accounts of their first successful powered flights.

A Sky Aglow with Death Machines

This was what my relatives went through, this is what Ukrainians experienced every day: fear of the skies, of anonymous violence delivered imperiously from above, whether from planes, missiles, or drones, this overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of the unknown hand determined to smite you down.

Why I Fly

Tomorrow I will drive thirty miles to pull out of a pole-barn hangar with peeling sheet metal siding a seventy-year-old, tube-and-fabric realization of my deeply embedded, retro dream, because for me and for the folks I most enjoy drinking a beer with, the soul is still to be found in flight and the machines that do it.

First Solo

There is a delicate mixture of ego and humility that one looks for in an aspiring pilot. If the person sitting next to you does not think he can handle the airplane in just about any situation, if she does not look forward to increasing challenges, then you begin to wonder if the person is cut out to be sitting in the left seat of the airplane.

Flight and Film

Flight, with its intoxicating blend of graceful beauty and adrenalizing daredevilry, was custom-made for cinema, which exults in movement—they are called motion pictures—and delights in vicariously transporting audiences to seemingly unreachable places.