Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning To Fly: All About Priorities

There’s a practical solution to every barrier in aviation

The big secret in aviation is that just about everybody goes into it because it's more fun than should be legally allowed, and not because it's practical.

Oh sure, you can certainly fly a Cirrus with a small family on a vacation trip, laughing at those poor folks crawling along on the interstate below you while you zip by at 170 mph, but in the cold light of day, it's not the cheapest thing to do, you can't carry much and weather is a constant, nagging factor.

People fly airplanes because nothing beats the experience of flying yourself somewhere. As pilots, the things we see, the sensations we experience and the rewards we feel going from one runway to another are indescribable. The cost is just something we accept and deal with, like a pebble in our shoe on a long walk, except the shoe won't come off.

Watching the sun disappear into the Pacific Ocean on a recent evening, I was alone in my airplane, just above a broken deck of the softest cumulous imaginable. I was there for the pure fun of it, without a single purpose or reason.

As the setting sun's rays charged along the cloud deck, shafts of amber light would appear and disappear, casting brilliant highlights against different parts of the clouds.

Suddenly, one of the rays washed over my face. I felt the warmth from the sun and squinted inreaction to the brightness. I watched as the ray painted my entire airplane, sweeping it in slow motion with changing light.

It was a moment of clarity, as if to tell me, "Don't forget how fortunate you are." I became aware that I was thinking of nothing but flying; no problems existed up there.

I lingered until the sun was saying its last goodbye, and then headed back to the airport, which was as silent as I had ever seen. I heard the chirp of my tires meeting the hard asphalt runway. The worries and cares of the day had vanished like wisps of steam.

Flying like that is therapy to me. There's something about aviating that replaces stress with peace and anxiety with calm. I wished I could bottle the feeling. To me, it's what flying is really about.

Outsiders would say, "Well, that's well and good that he can afford that, but we can't." But that flight had cost me considerably less than a round of golf. It was cheaper than a massage; a fraction of a doctor's visit. I own the plane with a small group of pilots.

My flight cost less than a friend's bar tab from the previous night, and less than my neighbor spends on cigarettes and beer. I've found that life is about priorities, and for me, flying is what keeps me sane. To pilots, flying isn't an expense, it's a way of living—a way to keep living.


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