Pilot Journal
Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Visit With Richard Bach

The author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull shares his love of flying

On my way to meet Richard Bach, I'm as nervous as I am excited. Is the man behind Jonathan Livingston Seagull as mystical, resolute and adventurous an aviator as his little-seagull-that-could? Would the fighter pilot-turned-barnstormer-turned-best-selling author intimidate? But the tall, unassuming man who greets me at the airport is friendly, approachable and real. And above all else, he's a pilot. We visit his 1943 Grumman G-44 Widgeon, which is receiving some TLC in the maintenance shop, and then take to the skies in his 1980 Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer. At 15 feet above sea level, the water below rushes as fast as our freedom soars, and when Richard passes the flight controls to me, he also passes trust. Later, back on earth, Richard's gentle, melodious voice—perfectly suited for storytelling—is childish with excitement as he speaks about what flying means to him.

Are you Richard the Pilot or Richard the Author?

I am a creature of the sky and that drives both my flying and writing. Part of me has always yearned to get back to the essential me: a free creature, not bound by space and time unless I so choose. The elements of choice and consent are really important. In flying, you have a calling that each of us can pursue by our consent and our earnest applied study—they don't just hand out private-pilot licenses. In return for our study and practice, we earn an enormous freedom.

Flying says to us: Don't tell me who you are by letters after your name, a list of accomplishments or numbers in your bank account; tell me who you are by how well you fly this airplane. I will now give you a 30-knot crosswind. I don't care who you are, but I do care if you'll keep this thing going straight down the runway.

When Jonathan Livingston Seagull came out, I was getting way too much attention. It was a blessed relief to be able to climb into my airplane and have a friend—albeit in the form of what we call a machine—who said, "All that stuff is over now, Richard. You just shut the cabin door and it's you and me." The more you fly an airplane, the more bonded you become. An airplane can't do it alone. A pilot can't do it alone. But when they come together, you've got a new creature in all of history and that's a human being who flies.

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