For David Lowry there is much to love about being an airplane pilot, but he might have missed out had he not followed his heart.
Flying was not something one did in 1978 for a hobby in Tahlequah - at least, not in the world of Lowry's father. But after a flight with a friend, Lowry got "the flying bug" and started taking lessons on his lunch hour.
"Nobody else was doing it, but after Greg [Blish] took me on my first flight, I was more fascinated," said Lowry.
He was working with his father at their hardware store and had to sneak out at lunch time.
"I got caught about half way through my student lessons by dad," Lowry said. "He told me to quit, and I explained that I had spent quite a bit of money to get where I was, and so he told me to finish and then not get back into a plane again. Needless to say, I finished my flying in about a year and a half and got my private pilot's license."
It took that long, Lowry recalled, because he had to save his money for lessons and could not get the time away from work easily. Once a pilot, he flew rental planes for several years before buying his first Cessna 182.
"I bought it for $5,000 and had to fly it back home from New Mexico," he said. "It had old carpet glued inside the plane on the walls and ceilings, only one seat, and the door was missing on the passenger side."
Today, he flies about once a month for business or family outings and looks forward to it each time. His hangar at Tahlequah Municipal Airport is spotless and the airplane gleams in the afternoon sun, as Lowry pushes a large shop broom across the polished concrete floor.
As his family has grown, Lowrey decided it was time to invest in another aircraft. A pilot he knew had put his personal airplane up for sale, but then changed his mind. Lowry had made an offer, then told him if he changed his mind to call. Having seen pictures, and knowing the care that had been given to the craft, Lowry knew it was, "a pretty neat airplane and he'd done anything you'd need to do."
One day, the pilot, who lived up north, called Lowry and invited him to go flying in a snowstorm.
"We take off and I'm pretty nervous. He flips on the ice lights, and balloons the wing, de-ices the wings, and the props are de-iced," he said.
Then the old pilot told Lowry, "Never fly in ice; I just wanted you to know. You don't get this kind of weather in Oklahoma, like we have is OshKosh."
Lowry sold his first plane and moved up to that Beechcraft Baron, a much faster plane with the ability to carry six people. The technology on this airplane, he said, makes it able to practically fly itself.
"It takes some time to learn how to communicate on the radios and navigate the airways. But once you are able to fly, you have a great feeling of accomplishment," he said.
Part of the appeal to Lowry is how flying makes the whole world seem smaller.
"I can make it to Branson in about 40 minutes. Dallas is less than an hour," he said. "You never think of going to Santa Fe for lunch, but I can leave here at 8 a.m., have lunch at noon, and come back home that afternoon."
Leaving out of Tahlequah is part of the convenience. Lowry flies only for fun or his business. He is not licensed to carry people for hire, which requires a different type of rating.
For Lowry's Hardware Store, which has evolved over the years to carry many different items, finding bargains is how they keep costs low for customers.
"If we find something that we want to look at for the store, I will fly there, make a deal, and get back home usually in the same day," he said.
Convenience and time saved are benefits of flying, and the cost of fuel isn't much, considering that. A single-engine airplane will burn about 12-16 gallons an hour, according to Lowry.
"You end up getting about 10 miles to the gallon, but you get to go straighter and faster than a car," Lowry said.
Getting a license is a bit of a cost, but a great investment of time and funds in the long run, he believes. And it comes with a variety of opportunities.
"If you need to make it to your destination in cloudy conditions, then you would need to move up to an instrument license that will let you fly in most any weather. If you want to fly an airplane with two engines, you would need a multi-engine rating," he said.
Lowry recommends to those starting out that they find a small plane or invest in one with others interested in getting licensed. Owning a plane keeps costs down except for gas and maintenance, which Lowry said could be about $15 an hour. The insurance costs about the same as for a car.
Along with the actual flying, a pilot has to research the fees to land at different airports, costs of fuel, and customs coming into or out of the United States.
"Tahlequah doesn't charge anything. A regional hub of Dallas is about $15, whereas Dallas-Fort Worth is about $700, and Branson is about $58 unless I buy gas," said Lowry.
Planes have advanced a lot in the 40 years Lowry has been flying.
"Not as much in the engines and air frames, but more in the technology to help you navigate the skies. It is much easier to fly today that it was 30 years ago. However, the same techniques are still required of the pilot," he said.
The most appealing aspect of flying for Lowry is how "it brings the world so close."
"In two hours and 45 minutes I can be at Gulf Shores, sitting with my feet in the water," he said.