Balanced aviation nutrition is like nutrition of all types in that it has to support and nurture the body, the soul and the mind, but not necessarily in that order. Without it, the entity that is the aviator will, if not wither and die, at least not realize his full potential. The aviator’s growth, thinking and spirit will be stunted, and he or she will probably not even realize it. To maintain an aviator’s body and mind in peak condition, it’s essential that it be fed the proper balance of nutrition from each of the four basic av-food groups.
Inasmuch as each aviator’s metabolic system requires a slightly different blend of av-food, each diet must be tweaked to exactly match a pilot’s requirements. Underlying those requirements are the pilot’s desires, goals and personality traits. In other words, each of us must seek out and design our own diet. My own av-diet is probably typical of the species and genus of which I’m a member, aviatus sporticus, or as it’s more popularly known, “aeronuts.” My nutritional system is designed around the contents of what I see as the necessary four av-food groups, which are represented by the nutritional acronym, FATG—friends, aerobatics, tailwheels and grass (the lawn kind, not the smoking kind).
For what are probably primordial reasons, aviation isn’t a solitary pursuit. Birds seldom fly solo. They seek their own kind. And aviators, who may, for all we know, be reincarnated from birds (or vice versa) have the same flocking instinct. It’s more than a tribal ritual that they gather at watering holes (those of the dark and smoky variety) and sit around in tittering groups in front of open hangars, their appendages flying about in recreations of maneuvers accomplished and crises averted. They engage in sometimes-monumental migrations as they converge on various gathering spots around the country, as if drawn by an instinct to be with others of their own kind, all of whom carry the banner of “friend.” The hardware that’s the supposed focus of these migrations may be the subject of excited conversation, but it’s the friends, both present and future, who draw them together. And it’s the concept of “friend” that sustains them.
Aerobatics isn’t necessarily a part of the chosen nutrition program for a majority of aviators. And they’re the poorer for it. They know aerobatics exist, but they don’t realize that aerobatics represents a parallel universe in which everything they know about aviation exists, but in exactly reversed order. Up is down and down is up, and it’s the delicious ability to mix and match each direction at will that gives the aerobatic-capable pilot a freedom others can’t imagine. Most pilots realize an airplane is capable of moving in ways they’ve never experienced, and there’s a vague uneasiness about what lies beyond certain limits. Aerobatic pilots seek and control those moves rather than fear them. To an aerobatic pilot, there’s no such thing as an “out of control” situation because they’re versed in the willful transition from the normal definition of control into that “other” world of control that most label “Unknown: To Be Avoided.” Aerobatics not only releases us from an unreasoning fear of the unknown, but also frees our souls by giving us access to true three-dimensional aviating.
And then there’s the joy of the tailwheel. In so many ways, it’s the spice that adds flavor to an increasingly mundane aviation existence. For some, it’s returning to aviation’s roots and learning the precision and safety that comes from controlling an airplane from takeoff to landing. For others, it’s a key that unlocks an otherwise tightly confined world of airplanes that’s unavailable to those unwilling to take the six hours of dual training that’s usually required to step over the threshold. On one side of that threshold lies a world populated with nosegear airplanes (most of which don’t have the patina of age and experience, and “character” has been carefully engineered out of their personalities). On the other side, lies an unfettered world that ranges from underpowered, antique flutter bugs that are rife with character to fire-breathing, former gunfighters with thousands of horsepower. To avoid the tailwheel means never tasting a sunset from the open door of a Cub, never baring your teeth in a grin during the gut-wrenching launch of an aerobatic special from the runway and never enjoying the fun of 4 gph cruising in a machine that’s twice your age and knows much more about aviation than you ever will. For the lack of six hours of training, the vast majority of aviation’s history is locked away, and you’ll miss the unbelievable nurturing effect it can have. Tasting aviation’s history completes you.
The final ingredient is one that’s easily overlooked and its effect grossly underestimated. As a plane softly gives itself up to the surface of a grass runway, those who have never had the experience suddenly realize something important has been missing from their aeronautical diet. Grass runways have a hypnotic (or maybe addictive) effect. You can’t land on just one. You must find another. And another. The effect is as difficult to describe as a kiss. It’s something so familiar, yet each time it’s different and each has it’s own allure. The world of the grass-runway aviator is somehow less complicated and more organic and has an unexpected settling effect on all who experience it. And it’s necessary for a well-balanced aviation diet.
I’m positive many of you reading this don’t agree with my definition of what constitutes the four basic food groups of aviation nutrition. That’s okay. It’s only necessary that you look at your own diet and realize that feeding on only one form of nutrition is never good for an organism. There must be a balance. Find what’s missing and seek out that which will make you feel better and, as an aviator, live longer. You owe it to yourself.
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.