Do you enjoy the smell of fresh-cut grass and the click of a golf ball on your club? Or gently resting the pad of your finger on a four-pound test line – then, one click at a time, trying to convince your favorite fish to bite? Perhaps traversing a wilderness area where the nearest jeep trail is a four-hour horse ride away? Fresh powder on the slopes? How about Champagne and music at the fire-pit? What about gardening, cooking, building things, playing music or writing? Or do you enjoy things more of a nurturing endeavor: showing the kids how to tie a square knot, pull the string on a gyroscope, keep a kite airborne or that the roots of a sassafras sapling smell like root beer? Maybe you enjoy all of the above freedoms and, like me, also appreciate being at the airport – the little airport.
Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.– John Lennon
Even if only to enjoy the smells, the sounds, the artistry of flying machines, and to hear and speak piloteze, I relish GA airports. Succumbing to a spur-of-the-moment trip, taking control of your machine to become a physical part of life’s adventure. Do we fly only to increase the efficiency and thereby the profitability of our business? Is it to save on our most valuable asset – time? Or is your reason the one popularly accepted as the new paradigm – to avoid the inefficient, inconvenient and occasionally embarrassing aggravation of the TSA/oversold/canceled public transportation process – while getting your temperature checked and wearing a now federally-mandated face covering? Or perhaps you simply have a deep appreciation of the word “freedom” and how it’s personified by GA.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same…– Ronald Reagan
Recently in the U.S. (and the world), it appears that we are transitioning to a more Orwellian, subservient society. And we all feel a bit restless, anxious and agitated. The world events of the last year serve to remind us that our values, freedoms and perhaps some of our favorite things like GA exist in accordance with not only our physical and financial health but judicial and political systems sometimes only marginally influenced by the majority. Just as governors close our businesses and airport screeners seize our scissors, shoes and shampoo, could our general aviation freedoms be modified or taken away as easily? While repeatedly challenged by a few, general aviation continues to give us the freedom to come-and-go as we please, on a course of our liking and to destinations of our choosing. We The People of GA are still in control of our flying. It’s a gratifying Declaration of our Independence, but are we neglecting the activism and fortitude that has made our aviation freedoms possible?
Don’t Be Ashamed
Many of us fly because our heart is in aviation and we love airplanes, being physically present and having control of the adventure. And if control is the reason, isn’t that enough? Why do we climb into a deep-sea submersible, blast into space, or fly above the earth instead of sending a pilotless vehicle or simply observing from a video screen? Because we enjoy being in the driver’s seat at the controls, becoming the architect, facilitator and witness to the voyage. To be responsible for how it goes. We need not be ashamed, and our motives need not be cryptic or esoteric – maybe only a bit ethereal since we experience sights and emotions unavailable to wingless humans. Even those that fall into the profitability or shoe and shampoo retention categories as a reason to fly GA must concede that control and achievement are indeed the reasons which resonate most honestly and faithfully. We have a connection with our airplanes out of both desire and necessity.
There is a fine line separating a relaxed and easy atmosphere in the cockpit from a lax one where distractions can result in critical failures. Professionalism may be described as knowing the difference between the two.– Dr. John K. Lauber, NTSB
I flew the Duke to Mackinac Island, Michigan, a while back just for the day. As I was installing the chocks, a very nice King Air pulled into a parking spot near me. A group of six passengers climbed out, followed by a senior pilot (i.e., grey, like me) wearing a uniform with four stripes – the Captain. He was followed by a younger pilot wearing three stripes – the First Officer. Sound carries on a quiet ramp, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation between the passengers and crew. At first, I thought it was a chartered flight. Their routine was polished and the pilots were very respectful and subservient to the passengers. The group was headed to the Grand Hotel for three days and the crew was to pick them up on Friday. The crew unloaded their own bags and secured the plane – they would wait on the island in case of a schedule change. While waiting for our “taxi” (a horse-drawn carriage) in the terminal lounge, I continued to eavesdrop. One of the ladies said to another, “Say again?” Well, you and I know what group of people most often use that terminology instead of “huh,” “what,” or “pardon me.” Holy cow, I thought. She’s a pilot, it’s her plane, and she hired a professional crew. I can only speculate on the reason. I know that I’ve wished for a crew a few times when my passengers were allowed to imbibe, stay up late and sleep in while I remained clearheaded, rested and awoke early to plan for the return trip. Piloting uses up a lot of brain cells.
A Subliminal Component of Piloting
Her arrangement made me realize how much of our thought process is absorbed by the task of flying an airplane. If you only have a few days to unwind and enjoy the destination, removing the flying task from your brain can make a difference. Most people don’t know that we aviators think about flying constantly. One dimension of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is perfection, but aviation perfectionists skirt this diagnosis using the explanation of safety and necessity. For example, we have a sense of things in flight supplemental to the physical task of flying – things that are a subliminal component of piloting. Whether pressurized or unpressurized, we can smell our environment, we can hear the air and the airplane, we feel changes in temperature and pressure and perhaps most notable, through our mind’s eye, we can see hundreds, even thousands of miles across multiple weather systems and terrain. When a layperson sees a flash of lightning, they think of wind, rain and thunderstorm. A pilot, whether in flight or on the ground, will think the same but with a global, or at least a continental, perspective. And with perhaps a deeper measure of fear, understanding and respect.
This wider perspective is a necessity and is due to an understanding of the cause and effect of planetary airflow, the heating and cooling of oceans and landmasses, the circulation around high and low-pressure systems and the relationship of temperature, pressure and dew point on the creation of weather and that lightning flash. We also have a keenly developed appreciation, respect, and rightfully so, a fear, of the components inside of the storm: wind shear, intense rain, ice, hail and tornadoes. Because of our physical and mental perceptions, the level of understanding extends across multiple disciplines and encompasses aspects of flight beyond just the airplane and weather. From topography, fires, earthquakes, floods and social gatherings, to riots and war, we see and perceive a plethora of information and events from our perch above the earth.
The Contemplative Exercise of an Artist
My unauthoritative psychological assessment is that pilots share a common personality trait: We like the interdisciplinary relationship between the science and art of flying. We enjoy merging the distinctly different and sometimes contrasting disciplines and enjoy the multi-faceted gratification of flying an airplane: the preparation, planning, scheduling, decision making, responsibility, coupled with the artful execution and finally, the completion of the mission. Oftentimes, in fact, we enjoy the completion component the most; the “post-flight pause” while closing the hangar door. Sometimes we are covertly grateful, like Gus Grissom, to have not “screwed the pooch,” especially if we got away with a mistake that could have been costly. We gaze at the machine in gratitude, knowing that it is the one that performed the real work, as it once again overlooked our minor mistakes in the execution of a sometimes complex and demanding flight. We admire its form and function, engines crackling, imagining that our machine is resting, like a horse after a run, the artistic creation that facilitates our flight. Maybe we say a word or two of admiration to the airplane out loud. Just as we mumble to our golf ball, the fish in a lake and to ourselves during a checklist. Let non-pilots believe that it’s the contemplative exercise of an artist.
To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.– Ronald Reagan
Many in GA have not been flying much lately. Remember, it’s okay to fly for enjoyment, to take advantage of the freedom, control and efficiency. We need not be ashamed and our motives need not be cryptic. Failing to exercise and defend our freedom of flight is hoping that regulators, insurers and the tax-man will eat us last – but eat us they will. Shall we demonstrate our commitment to GA and fly somewhere just because we can, while we still can? A couple-thousand-dollar pancake breakfast or a hamburger for lunch, a fishing excursion, a skiing trip or dinner in another country? For those in my neck of the woods, how about finding somewhere warm to play golf? Hire a crew if you want, but good luck separating your heart from the machine and your head from piloting. But no matter where you sit in the airplane, it’s better than being eaten.