Plane & Pilot
Saturday, January 1, 2005

Fear Of Flying

Conquering it may just be a matter of control

The National Safety Council, in fact, released some statistics in which the argument is made that you’re at least 50 times more likely to get killed in a car than in an airplane. If you take little airplanes out of the mix and look only at airliners, the odds are so low that they aren’t even worth discussing. But to people like Jennifer, the fact that they’re more likely to be struck by lightning than die in an airliner crash doesn’t mean a thing. Just the fact that at least one person has died in an airliner is enough to prove her case. And that’s the kind of negative thinking that causes my own little twinges of fear. At least one little airplane has fallen from the air. So will I be next?

Central to my concerns is that I have a basic distrust of mechanical stuff. This is especially true of a whirling mechanism that must harness thousands of explosions an hour and turn them into the power that’s required to keep me aloft. It’s only logical that sooner or later, some microscopic crack, a nut that’s not on quite tight enough or some other minor detail will bring the frantic dance of death that typifies a reciprocating engine to a grinding halt. And there I am, with no propulsion. It has happened to me before, so what’s to stop it from happening again?

The foregoing is only common sense; things wear out, things break. This, however, is half empty thinking. Rather than saying that the glass is half-full and thinking how miraculous it is that aircraft engines seldom fail, the fact that they do occasionally fail keeps popping up in my mind. Even though I’m an engineer and know that the odds of the engine quitting at any given moment are astronomical, the pessimist in me won’t put any trust in that thought.

Fortunately, 99% of the time, my more rational self keeps Mr. Gloomy in check. The rational me knows that bad things almost never happen. The pessimist me, however, sits in the corner, preparing to leap out and set things right when bad stuff happens. And that may be the difference between Jennifer and me: I have some control over my aerial destiny, and she doesn’t. I know that most of the time, when I’m in the air, I can reach out and make a difference.

Maybe the cure for Jennifer is for me to teach her to fly and buy her a Cirrus so she doesn’t have to mess with airliners. Yeah, right!

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, 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


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