Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mind Over Matter

Visualization on the ground is as important as flight in the air to the screen

There are other ways of thinking about flying, like remembering, surrendering and trusting. Once, when I told a friend about other risky sports I like to engage in as a hobby, like horse riding, he told me it was too unsafe and that I'd hurt myself. This friend flies a lot of exotic airplanes, and so I responded that he doesn't deny himself the thrill of flying his big boy's toys. He told me that while he feels he indulges his desire to fly exotic machines, he likes to think about some of the more extreme things he has done and enjoy them from a better vantage point rather than repeating them. At first I thought he was being silly, but the more I thought about that statement, the more I realized it made a lot of sense. When we do things in airplanes that push our limits—say, scud running for example—we don't have to repeat the experience. We can think about it in a deeper, more meaningful way, and relive the experience and learn from it.

A few years ago, I was flying at an air show at a large military base and had a conversation with a highly qualified U.S. Navy test pilot. He told me he had stopped enjoying flying and started fearing it because it was hard to shut out all of the engineering data. He asked if I had any advice on how he could relax and enjoy the flying more. I thought about how when I fly an air show, I have to focus on the big picture of spatial orientation while keeping the details in sight. I don't consciously "think" about the details—they're second nature, and low-level flying ultimately has to be visceral rather than techno oriented. An engineering test pilot, though, has to have a very narrow focus on the technical details, so enjoying the big picture might be more difficult. Our discussion eventually got around to "surrender" and "trust." There's only so much you can control. This is what I tell people who are afraid to fly on a commercial airline. Sit back and enjoy the ride, and place your trust in the pilot's skill and the technology.

And what about dreaming? I've had vivid flying dreams my entire life. Just the other night, I was flying a King Air. It was dark and I had no cockpit lights, but I could see the runway up ahead where I was landing. I felt confident and in control. The landing lights were bright, and as I came in to land, I made a perfect touchdown but realized as I was rolling out I wasn't on the centerline, but on the runway edge.

Who knows what it meant, but I believe that dreaming, thinking, visualization, watching, seeing, critiquing, discussing, remembering and surrendering are all ways to enjoy flying more deeply. Just like learning a foreign language, it's in this way that aviation starts to become a part of you. Before you know it, the first thing you'll do in the morning is look up at the sky and wonder which direction the wind is blowing. Then you'll start thinking like a pilot.


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