Pilot Journal
Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Visit With Richard Bach

The author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull shares his love of flying

Do you plan to write another aviation book?

I don't know that I will ever finish it, but my wife challenged me to write everything I know about flying. My first reaction was that I could write it on a pinhead. But I've been messing around with airplanes for a lot of years, and this idea is a fun challenge to approach.

Everyone has their own version of things they never learned in flight school, but some of my ideas are controversial. If the weather is going bad around you, land. Don't look for an airport. Airplanes have landed in fields for years and year and years—simply pick a level field and land. Granted, some airplanes are a little better at landing off airport, but much preferable to tear the nosewheel off and be sitting on the ground than to be up in the air and have all kinds of bad things happen.

I want there to be an organization called Captain Chicken. The only way you can join is by writing an account of something you decided that you wouldn't do, even though there were other people who could. I'm so glad I'm a chicken. One of the old maxims of flying is that pilots' funerals always happened on sunny days. Early aviators would die in the weather, and at their funeral three days later, the storms were gone. They could have waited. So can we.

Richard plays in his 1943 Grumman G-44 Widgeon in the maintenance shop where it's being serviced.
What does flying mean to you?

Ask airline pilots why they do what they do, and they say, "It beats working." Other times you talk with them and they will tell you about flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo at night. There's no moon, but there are the stars and the sea and you feel adrift in space. They're trying to say something that they can't say. We sometimes feel so insignificant, and other times we feel so joyfully, gloriously empowered by flight. And so I think everyone who flies is at some level asking to be deeply touched by what happens. The experience of becoming part of the sky is something that leaves most of us wordless.

You look at your logbook and think back on flights, but how can you tell it to someone? If you're crazy like me, you'll try. Maybe it touches something with others or maybe it misses the mark. I'm willing to be a fool in print. I think about what we learn, flying. How to trust what we can't see: Not steel cables, but the invisible principle of aerodynamics is going to lift our airplane and us with it. When we learn instrument flying and we climb, don't mind the rain or the gray or the rough air—sooner or later, we'll break out on top. We'll touch beautiful sunlight and the storm will fall below us. I remember that, when I'm going through difficult times in my life. Keep climbing. No matter what.

After 37 years, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, with photography by Russell Munson, is still in print.

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