Memories were flashing back and forth as I drove towards the Mojave Desert—on a highway that seemed to kiss the starry sky far ahead at the horizon.
It was June 2013, and I had received a phone call around 8pm that night. By 10pm I was on the road from Stanford to Mojave—with Google Maps gently proclaiming it would be a four hour 48 minute journey. Childhood memories have power in their own way and that day I realized they also had life. They seemed to dance and rejoice for my journey to the desert.
Up until recently, I had only seen Mojave on various Discovery Channel shows and documentaries—Mojave is where some of the greatest airplanes in the history of general aviation were built and tested. With the Edwards Air Force Base adjacent to Mojave, it was here that all the early jet development happened and also where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.
I had been to Mojave about a month before and while having lunch in the Voyager cafe at the spaceport, an old man landed his Cessna 150 and parked just outside the restaurant.
He then walked in and took a seat next to my table and murmured to himself, “It’s windy today”. My jaw dropped the moment a colleague whispered to me that this person was Dick Rutan, one of the greatest pilots in the world—in 1986 he flew the Voyager on the first non-stop flight around the world, achieving a prominent world record.
Feeling that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I wanted to share my story with him in the hopes that, if all went well, I could convince him to take me flying with him in his airplane.
And indeed, the person who had called that night was none other than Dick Rutan. I was about to experience the dream that my colleagues and I had envisioned back in college, as we watched videos about the adventures of Dick and his brother Burt Rutan, designer of Virgin Galactic’s spaceship.
Before I knew it, we were flying... a beautiful aerial view of the Mojave Air and Space Port laid out beneath us.
We also saw Stratolaunch from above—where they are developing the world’s largest airborne rocket launcher (twice the size of a Boeing 747).
After our initial flight together that day, I convinced Dick to teach me to fly.
I drove to Mojave regularly to learn flying, while listening to his most inspiring stories—like when he crash-landed in the North Pole, or how he jumped out of a balloon during an attempt to circumnavigate the Earth.
Below are some photos from these flying lessons