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Take off this Saturday at the Cracker Fly-In
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John Pittman is one of the organizers of the annual Cracker Fly-In at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. The event is set for Saturday.

Cracker Fly-In

When: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 8
Where: Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport, 1137 Aviation Way, Gainesville
How much: $5 at the gate, rides extra
More info: scrider@bellsouth.net

Lifting off in a small-engine plane, feeling the ground let go and lighter currents take over as an engine thrums you through the atmosphere, is a reminder that flying can be beautiful.

Americans used to the dehumanizing experience of commercial jet travel — with the pawing inspections of the Transportation Security Administration and recent beatings on flights offered by United Airlines — may need a reminder. The pilots of the Cracker Fly-In are offering one this Saturday, when they show off their aircraft and offer paid rides beginning at 7 a.m. at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.

In addition to the aircraft, the members of chapter 611 of the Experimental Aircraft Association have lined up hotdog, barbecue and snow cone vendors.

Gainesville has a gift in its airport, a quiet stretch of asphalt tucked between Queen City Parkway and Atlanta Highway. Uncontrolled by the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots both commercial and private are free to fly when they want using their own common sense and radios.

Pilots and aircraft owners will be on hand to talk to people about their machines, including the members of the Tiger Flight Foundation from Rome, who fly propeller planes painted up in the bright orange of tiger stripes.

Gainesville residents with deep pockets will even get the chance to fly, including in a P51 Mustang, a World War II-era fighter plane. For only $1,595, you can get a 20-minute, adrenaline-churning history lesson.

If that’s a little steep, pilots will offer fixed-rate rides in helicopters and pay-by-the-minute rides in a handful of other planes, including time in a Cessna seaplane starting at $50.

Pilots set some limitations for flights based on age and physical condition, according to Shane Crider, one of the event organizers.

If you can spare the cash, you should.

On Wednesday, John Pittman took me along in his Cessna Skylane, a single-engine aircraft that he flies very well, with Summer, his little terrier.

Pittman and Summer won’t be flying on Saturday, however, as the pilot is in charge of breakfast for the event. He informed me that while other pilots might say people come to the fly-in for the planes, he knows they come for the pancakes.

There is nothing like the rattling acceleration of a small plane leaving the earth and taking you with it. Jets don’t communicate the way small planes do — you don’t get the same jostle as the aircraft and pilot figure themselves out in the snap moments after takeoff.

But it’s not a more aggressive or unsettling experience. Because a small plane doesn’t have to haul its enormous bulk off the ground, taking off doesn’t require the same speed and force that turns stomachs on a passenger jet.

It’s more like your own car running up to an interstate.

And unlike the interstate, there’s no real traffic in the skies – no one riding in the left lane or tailgating you while you zoom over Lake Lanier and the downtown square separated from the world by physics and aluminum.

If you’re like me, you worry about work and your to-do list at home and things that won’t happen for days or weeks or months and things that happened days or weeks or months ago.

Flying separates you mentally as well as physically. For a peaceful few minutes, you can look out, let your senses overpower you.

In your ears will be the background roar of the propeller slapping against the air as it scoots you at 125 mph over the hills of Gainesville. At your fingertips will be the engine sucking down $4-per-gallon aviation fuel.

Before your eyes will be a new perspective.

You’ll see the crisscross patterns of highways and arrow-straight utility lines, the paisley spirals of subdivisions and the blue-green of Lake Lanier outlined by red Georgia dirt.

You’ll see rowers streaming by the Olympic venue. You’ll catch businessmen skipping out on work to hit their golf courses and the sunny glint of vehicles pouring over tiny bridges and roads.

Above it all, you’ll see — maybe for the first time — that flying can be beautiful.

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