I write from the sky.

From a whopping big metal bird that, by rights, shouldn't possess the gumption to even try to get aloft.

The flight is filled with hundreds of humans and their associated baggage - both literal and metaphoric. I am one of them.

Not all air journeys happen for fun-filled reasons. Some are necessary and sad; undertaken in a fog of grief.

Advertisement

The folks on this night flight across the ocean seem to be far more distracted than me. They endlessly fiddle with their headphones and in-flight entertainment - many before we've even left the ground. I always stare reflectively out the window, partially in disgust at their irreverence towards what's about to happen.

Even while trundling across the apron to the taxiway to the runway, I prepare for the moment when we are all in fate's hand. Fair bursting with the weight of unwieldy wings jam-packed with avgas, this tin can eventually lifts off and instantly transforms itself from a blue-footed booby to an albatross.

The sky is where it belongs. I suspect it's where I belong too.

There is a peace in it. A state of contemplation. Suspended between your life back there on the ground, and the destination ahead. Trusting all will be well with the engines, the airframe, the pilots and the weather.

At the first familiar bump of turbulence my heart leaps from mild fright. When it's evident that this may well last until San Francisco, I settle into letting it flow through me until I enjoy it. Giving up any veneer of control is a powerful thing.

I can't distract myself tonight, and virtually never do, with the movies or games or music. I want to feel everything about this sensation that many choose to normalise. I've been flying somewhere my whole life, and the thrill of it never leaves me.

I started gliding when I was 15. I went solo as soon as I turned 16. The things you can do in a carbon-fibre glider go well beyond what most people think.

You can travel hundreds of miles engineless - using only thermals, ridge lift or wave clouds. You can travel faster than a small plane - I've dragged off a Cessna and a Piper a time or two - and the aerobatics are beyond sexy. All of it done amid the whoosh of airflow; not the roar of horsepower.

I took up powered flight later, and only with the express intention of towing gliders aloft. Which, funnily enough, I never ended up doing.

I've lost friends too. Good ones. A bestie. Gliding took one of my favourite people ever. A few short weeks away from marrying another gliding legend, she crashed out the back of a gorgeous Kapiti valley on a sunny, near-perfect day.

In my 20s, I worked for a topdressing company - in a mostly ground-based role - and three of the pilots died within a couple of months. You get to know these people. You feel the loss.

That's aviation. People die. They die in car crashes too, and far more often. It's just that not everyone flies, and there is a bond in it that's felt very keenly when planes don't stay up. For whatever reason.

Aviation is the one man-made creation that I'll miss when I'm dead. If I could miss anything.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Tonight, somewhere over the Pacific at 30,000ft, I toast my dear departed friends with a fine New Zealand pinot noir accompanied by a lamb casserole.

I tell a lie. I do know where I am because the flight map tells me. It is the only thing on my screen that I glance at because it's endlessly interesting. Groundspeed, airspeed, time to destination, time at destination, actual position on this planet we call home.

I have flown this route countless times. So many times, and only ever with my national airline.

So much so, that when I got a tattoo - trust me, it was considered a tad more rad in 1986 - I chose the koru from the back of Air New Zealand's planes.

You may call it a failure of imagination, or a symbol of more mono-cultural times, but I had it inked squarely into my right shoulder blade in replica teal green.

Tattoos can age badly. When deciding on a design I distinctly remember thinking that the truly unalterable fact probably had to be love for my country, and flight.

While the first reason waivers these days, the second never does.

In these climate change and dread-filled times, flight - in all its forms - comforts and calms me. Aviation is the one man-made creation that I'll miss when I'm dead. If I could miss anything.

That sense of wonder, of rising above it all, never gets old. Which is why I love birds.

"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven." Emily Dickinson.