When my family moved to suburban Chicago in 1969, O'Hare International was the world's busiest airport. While our house was miles from O'Hare, low altitude airliners as large as Boeing 747s roared over us more often than one plane per minute, all day, every day. We also lived near a Naval Air Base. On some days fighter jets rumbled loudly over our house as they maneuvered to land at the Navy base. At first the unceasing noise of military and commercial jets was deafening, and we thought we would lose our minds. But after six months we somehow had learned to tune out the majority of the constant roaring. This may seem hard to believe, but human beings can adjust to almost anything, given time. If I stopped and deliberately listened for the airplane engines, I could hear them clearly. Even so the noise didn't seem as loud as it had when we first moved in.
We made many sightseeing trips to O'Hare during the three years we lived in Illinois. As a boy who hoped to be a professional pilot some day, these trips were a much anticipated joy. Certain areas of the airport had huge windows where we spent many hours over the years watching airliners take off and land. The massive jets would accelerate rapidly down the runways before slowly and with great effort becoming airborne. Once off the ground, the planes soared quickly upward and out of sight. But I was especially in awe of how pilots could bring a jumbo jet safely down from miles above the ground and place it almost gently on a runway. The descending planes appeared to land in slow motion even though they were moving quite rapidly. I also enjoyed watching planes taxi to and from arrival and departure gates. This allowed me to view these large airliners close up.
Sometimes on Saturday afternoons during the summer months, we drove near the ends of departure runways at O'Hare where we could watch planes take off as closely as possible. At these locations there were hot dogs stands that did a surprisingly good business. We would have hot dogs and drinks while enormous jets thundered directly overhead, seemingly low enough to reach up and touch. We not only heard but also felt the almost painful roaring of full throttle engines. This variety of Saturday supper may not be for everyone, but for those of us who enjoyed the novelty, such an exhilarating meal was a unique experience.
While I never realized my dream of becoming a pilot, the ambition led me to many fascinating childhood adventures. Even though I've kept both feet planted firmly on the ground, I will always have my memories of those three years in the shadow of O'Hare Airport. My childhood was deeply enriched by the presence of those thundering aircraft.