For Jet Gazers, Flying Is Magical

November 07, 1994|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

There's a place where 50-ton silver jets swoop low over a grassy field, wheels seeming to almost graze the roofs of cars along Dorsey Road.

If you stand there you can feel the backwash of their engines spitting and gargling. On good days, when the sky is clear and the red windsock catches a blow from the north or west, you can see them in the distance, stacked three and four deep.

On the ground, Boeing 737s mill around Baltimore-Washington International Airport's runway 15L/33R, waiting for takeoff.

"To me, it's like a ballet," says Fred Klonin, a traveling salesman on his lunch break. "Here are these huge airplanes traveling 200 mph. Air traffic control gets them off the runway and lands them with less than a minute before the next one. A bus driver has more control where it goes than a pilot."

Mr. Klonin is not alone. Dozens join him every day to pay homage to flight. They gather at a simple spot: a gravel lot, a few trash bins, a metal sign that reads, "BWI's Aircraft Viewing Area, open sunrise to sunset."

Mr. Klonin insists the best time to watch is at dusk, when landing lights flood the evening sky like stage lights set for a show.

"It's incomprehensible, but if you understand it, it's a real joy," said Mr. Klonin, who also visits Washington National Airport's viewing area at Gravelly Point.

Ella McNemar, 44, who works close by, said the viewing area has become one of her favorite places to eat lunch.

"It puts me in contact with God," she said, gazing from her parked car.

For a long time it was thought by many that only gods and angels could fly.

Human attempts met with disaster. In the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, young Icarus flew too near the sun. The wax that held fast his wings melted, and he fell to his death.

"The story shows that humans shouldn't fly," says Gregory Staley, a classics professor at the University of Maryland College Park. "What's so fascinating about aviation today is that . . . it's not just the gods who can fly but everyone can."

Finally, that day arrived in December 1903 when, on the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C., Orville and Wilbur Wright ushered in the era of modern aviation. Their first flight lasted 12 seconds.

Today, 625 planes fly in and out of BWI every day. But for the jet gazers who visit the viewing area, the commonplace takeoffs and landings have not lost their magic.

"Planes fascinate me -- something so big just gets up in the air and goes," said Gordon Williams, 73.

Born in Glen Burnie, Mr. Williams has spent most of his life near BWI. Before the airport's observation tower closed, he used to bring his four children there on Sundays. In the 1950s, it cost 10 cents to ride the escalator to the top.

On weekdays, the grounds at BWI's viewing area nearly fill with people on their lunch break. On weekends, families and couples gather. During the summers, people have picnics. They watch from their cars, stand on their bumpers, meander in the field. The serious tote camcorders, binoculars and scanners.

"You listen to how they talk down the airplane," says Thomas Stovall, 25.

Mr. Stovall, who lives in Millersville, comes to the viewing area on his days off. He props his Radio Shack scanner atop his car and listens as the air traffic controllers talk down the approaching planes.

"I remember when I was a baby, a plane would fly over and I would watch them," says Mr. Stovall.

Psychologists and psychiatrists believe the fascination with flight lies deep in the human psyche.

"There seems to be a desire to transcend what we see as common boundaries put upon us -- like being on Earth -- even to transcend what we consider to be our human condition," says Dr. Michael Neboschick, a Columbia psychologist who is also a pilot and flight instructor.

Many of us dream of flying. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, believed such dreams are archetypes, universally shared feelings.

"This archetype of flight, the freedom and power appeals to something that is literally built in the human psyche," said Dr. Mark Komrad, a psychiatrist at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. "It's not weird. It's normal human psychology."

And it may be universal. John Cly said that during a recent trip to Europe he saw the same phenomenon of people lining up to watch takeoffs and landings. But the Europeans went one step further.

"You know how we have trading cards?" Mr. Cly said. "They collect photos of different airplanes and complete a set of Lufthansa."

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