Plane & Pilot
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fathers, Sons And Flying

A CNN correspondent reflects on flying as a family affair

guest speaker
Miles O’Brien, a licensed pilot, is CNN’s chief technology and environment correspondent.
I will never forget Mike’s advice to me as he signed me into the ranks of aviators. “Always keep your skills ‘wet’,” he said. Easier said than done when you’re trying to make ends meet and starting a family. Indeed, over the years, the only thing that stood in the way of my freedom to fly was money, or more accurately, the lack of it.

Matter of fact, the gaps in my logbook neatly match the gaps in my checkbook. But I always came back to it the moment I could because it’s thrilling in ways that nonpilots don’t comprehend. As all pilots know, flying is the second greatest thrill in life—the first, of course, is landing.

Seriously, for me, it’s something that’s completely engrossing, something that forces me to live entirely in the moment—the only timeframe that really matters equates to the amount of low-lead left in my wings. There’s no time to review the office “to-do” list when the ground is rising to meet you.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”

There’s nothing like greasing that landing in a stiff crosswind…or nailing an ILS—breaking out of a cloud deck after a long slog through the scud, right at decision height, and seeing those approach lights winking their greeting…as if to say, “Nice work, flyboy. Welcome back to earth.”

I guess the spirit of that nine-year-old is still alive and well inside me. Maybe that’s true for all pilots. How else could you explain the time, effort and expense we commit to our engrossing avocation?

Richard Bach, who penned the story of a passionate, maverick seagull, of all things, wrote this: “Never stop being a kid. Never stop feeling and seeing and being excited with great things like air and engines and sounds of sunlight within you. Wear your little mask if you must to protect you from the world but if you let that kid disappear you are grown up and you are dead.”

These days, I log a lot of time in my SR22 with my family strapped in beside me cheek to jowl. I’m sure the circus act scene doesn’t jive with the image their friends conjure when my kids tell them they’re headed to the Bahamas in a private plane—but, hey, we don’t need no stinkin’ G-V!

It warms my heart that my progeny are also imbued with a love of aviation. Nature or nurture? No way to know for sure, but probably both.

My only hope is they will always have the opportunity to turn that passion into reality if they so choose. We may not think about it too often, but we’re all winners of a cosmic Lotto to be alive in this sliver of time in this extraordinary place, which allows us to individually realize a dream as old as humanity itself.

Flying may be hardwired into our DNA, but there’s no guarantee our children and our children’s children will also enjoy freedom to actualize the dream. It’s our responsibility to keep the privilege “wet.”


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