In the category of Books That Have Made an Impact on Me, there is one that I always seem to forget, although it’s impact has been profound: The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual by William Kershner.
I first encountered this book (with the cover seen above) in 1980 or 1981 when I was 8 or 9 years old. My dad was taking ground school at T. F. Green airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. The book was sitting around, I guess, or maybe he gave it to me to look at. The result was astounding. The minute I began flipping through its pages, I knew I wanted to fly.
I believe it is the first book I ever memorized from cover-to-cover. Much of it I didn’t understand, despite having memorized it, but a lot of I did. For one thing, the book taught me that flying a plane was not as simple as driving a car. For another, it taught that in many ways it was far simpler. I could draw the control panel of a Cessna 152 from memory, thanks to that book. I would draw them and pretend I was flying. A few years later, when the first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator went on the market, I began pretending on those as well.
When I was 15 years old, my cousin, a pilot, took me up in his Cessna 182. We flew over parts of New Hampshire, and he let me at the controls. That just confirmed what the book told me when I picked it up. I was supposed to fly.
In 1999, I began taking flying lessons out of Van Nuys airport in Van Nuys, California. On April 3, 2000, I passed my practical examination (on the first try!) and was a licensed private pilot. I don’t think we used Kershner’s book in the ground instruction I took for my license. There was some other book. But I still had Kershner’s book, tattered though it was, and I read and re-read it. I had about a year and a half of flying before 9/11 made it difficult and expensive for fair weather pilots like me.
I haven’t thought of The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual in years, and I’m not sure why I thought of it recently, but I’m glad that I did. I think it is the perfect demonstration of the power of books. Give a kid the right book when he’s 8 years old, and 19 years later, he’s achieved one of his dreams.