At 32, Josh Gunnemann is finally fulfilling his childhood dream to fly airplanes. A civil litigator with Rogers & Hardin, Gunnemann always wanted to be a pilot. As a young boy, he enjoyed riding in commercial airliners. He memorized the different types of planes and even drew pictures of them.

About two-and-a-half years ago, after riding in a friend’s small plane a few times, Gunnemann decided it was time to act on his passion. Gunnemann spoke to the Daily Report about his favorite pastime and love of the sky.

What do you think draws you to flying?

I think it’s a great mix. Freedom—the ability to really get out of the world you’re used to on a daily basis. There’s something that’s completely unique about being up above the clouds, in the sky after a sunrise or a sunset flight that you just don’t get to experience if you’re on the ground. But at the same time, there’s an immense challenge involved in flying. It takes a lot of focus, commitment, and you have to develop a skill for it. It’s something you can spend your entire lifetime getting better at. Those two things are very different, but they both appeal to me a lot.

You have your sport pilot certificate and you’re working on your private pilot certificate. What’s the difference?

My sport pilot certificate lets you fly what’s called light sport aircraft. It’s a pretty new certificate. It’s only been around about seven years or so. It limits you in what you’re able to do. For example, I’m not allowed to fly at night. I can’t fly a plane that’s not a light sport plane, so I can’t fly anything that has more than two seats and a certain number of horsepower. It’s just a smaller airplane that’s simpler to fly.

And with a private pilot certificate you can do a lot more?

You can fly larger planes with more passengers, and you can fly at night. You can work on your instrument rating, which lets you fly in clouds, in weather, and the like. So right now, for example, if I’ve got an out-of-town deposition, I’m not quite at the point where I’m taking my plane, but I’d like to get to that point.

When do you find the time to fly?

I try to go about twice a month, every other weekend … on Saturday mornings. I usually try to sneak in a sunrise flight once a month or so because I really enjoy those.

I’ll bet that’s beautiful.

Yeah, it’s gorgeous. It’s just a short flight. Usually one of my favorite things to do is to take off from Fulton County Charlie Brown [airport], which is right by Six Flags, and then you can fly over Midtown, loop around Stone Mountain and come back. It’s only about a 25-minute flight, but it’s a really pretty one and that sunrise is totally worth it.

Have you ever had a close call while flying?

I was wondering if you’d ask me that. The answer is nothing too scary, and I’m quite comfortable with that.

Is there more you want to do after you get your private pilot certificate?

Yes, instrument training. That really opens up your flying to go anywhere at anytime. The instrument rating is pretty hard to get and hard to keep. You’ve really got to keep using it. So that’s the real plan … to do that and hold on to it because that lets me fly friends and family for the weekend … and not worry about traffic or anything like that.

Do you find there is a community of people like you who like to fly and stay in touch?

The general aviation community is something I didn’t really have a window into at all before flying, and it’s great. Every little town has an airport, and sometimes it’s just a little field with a hut, and sometimes it’s manned and sometimes not. Sometimes there are these great flying clubs with old-time pilots sitting around talking about flying stories and different planes. It’s really neat to go in and experience that community.

I think it’s a real testament to the Wild West culture in the U.S. because it’s complete freedom. Where else can you go and just drive up to an airport, jump out of your car, jump on a plane and take off and go anywhere? So yes, there are a bunch of folks I’ve met who fly planes.

Are they from all walks of life?

It totally runs the gamut. A good buddy of mine—who works in the firm and who flies planes—he and I go out a lot. Then, some of my instructors are barely scraping by. One of them works at a convenience store. He is an instructor so that he [is able to] fly all the time. Some of these guys are old-timers who pretty much build their own planes.

Once you get all your certifications, is there a certain place you want to fly?

I’d love to fly to the Caribbean. I think island hopping through the Caribbean would be a lot of fun.

Do you find this is your outlet when things are stressful at work?

Absolutely. I think it’s a great stress reliever. Work is so busy, and it’s really nice to simply escape into a world that’s completely different.

But at the same time, it’s a world that fits my skills. There’s such a technical aspect of flying. There’s so much focus that it takes that I really enjoy learning about it. I enjoy being a student of flying. So, it also satisfies that side of me that helps me in law, which is always learning, always trying something new or trying something different, and never being satisfied with doing the same thing over and over again.