|THE ADVENTUROUS LIFE. Airplanes offer pilots a gateway to adventure that’s often inaccessible by other modes of transportation.|
Elsewhere in this issue, we’re bantering around the phrase “adventure aircraft” as if it’s a universally understood term. Personally, I’m not sure it is. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think the term “adventure” itself is open to definition and is very much colored by your aviation life and how you live it—one man’s adventure is another’s ho-hum afternoon.
My desktop iDictionary defines adventure as “daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.” But there again, both “daring” and “exciting” can be defined in many different ways. If you ask the average nonflying man on the street about the concept, you can be certain that he’ll see anything to do with flying as having more than a modicum of daring and exciting attached. In fact, to your neighbors, you probably look pretty daring just because you fly (and it has nothing to do with the goggles and scarf you always wear), because flying is way outside the norm. Once you step inside the arena of aviation, however, the concept of “normal” changes.
First of all, being off the ground in what civilians would judge as a potentially hostile environment is, within aviation circles, judged as normal, so adventure starts from a different datum; from a ground-bound perspective, our entire aviation life is lived within the realm of adventure. If it’s normal to us, however, what do we do to add adventure? Here, too, it’s relative.
When you’ve spent your entire training career in a C-152, moving up to a C-172 or C-182 is high-adventure. Squeaking between the trees to put your lowly C-152 on a rural, out-of-the-way strip, however, also qualifies as adventure because you’ve gone where you’ve never gone before and done what you’ve never done. In fact, any obvious step out of the norm, even a long cross-country, earns you an adventure merit badge.
Anyone who has flown for any length of time remembers their favorite adventures, so, like everyone else, it’s natural, when I look back, that some flights jump out above the rest as having had a higher adventure factor.
Everyone’s initial solo sticks out in their mind: I can still see my instructor, Ron Epps, in Lincoln, Neb., down on his haunches at the edge of the grass runway facing away from me, as if he had no worries, as I brought the throttle up and stepped over the threshold into the new life that awaits all newbie pilots.
Then, I think about turning final to mere slashes in the jungle that stretched every possible definition of “runway.” They were short (some 450 feet) and undulating and hemmed in by rocks and huge trees. Better yet, we were flying a twin: the Evangel 4500. Every bit of water in any direction was teeming with piranhas, it was jungle as far as the eye could see and all the locals wore breechclouts and carried machetes. I felt like the central character in a National Geographic article! Now that was an adventure.
And then there was my short tenure as a warbird pilot, during which time I was living my daydreams as I skipped from Mustang to P-38, B-25 to Bearcat, etc., etc. The sheer adrenaline of machines like these makes each flight an adventure, but in my case, it was doubly so because I was so far outside of my comfort zone in every possible way. A ragleg Cub pilot in high-horsepower heaven: That was me.
I so clearly remember the daring and excitement associated with my first three or four hours of dual learning aerobatics in a Citabria. As I came over the backside of my first loop, at that exact instant, it was as if I had just discovered aviation for the first time. My world was instantly transformed and would never be the same. In a nanosecond, the airplane became something more than a semi-exotic form of transportation. It became my ticket to an entirely new world, and the three-dimensional possibilities of flight came up and hit me right between the eyes. Today, 40 years after that startling discovery, I still feel the same daring and excitement on every single flight.
For something to be adventurous, however, it’s not necessary to be going straight up or slipping into a foreboding piece of real estate. Nor is it necessary to be doing something you would normally judge as being totally outlandish. What is necessary, however, is that we all look around and ask a simple question: “In my life, have I been in this one place with my feet up for so long that I’m so comfortable I’d rather not have to move out of it?” If the answer is any form of yes/maybe/I don’t know, then it’s time for a little adventure. It’s time to climb out of your rut and go where no part of you has gone before. (Thanks, Captain Kirk.) It’s time to add a little color and spice to a life that may be trending down to being sedimentary.
It’s important to remember that sediment is the stuff that lies at the bottom of rivers, lakes and oceans, while all the exciting stuff is happening above it. And no one wants to be on the bottom looking up.
Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & CFIA, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his website at www.airbum.com.