There are a lot of reasons why I love to fly, but the one that’s the foundation of them all is freedom. In airplanes, as in dreams, I rise above the mountains and the mundane. I can see over the trees. I’m in charge and in control of my destination, my destiny. The world becomes accessible, smaller. And because I’m lucky enough to fly in this country, I can go where I want and when I want.
When I open the hangar and look at my 1959 V-tail Bonanza, I don’t see a collection of metal parts; I see a flying work of modern art capable of opening a world of possibilities to me. Where will it take me, how far will I go? A friend of mine just flew his V-tail Bonanza around the world. My V-tail isn’t set up for that, but I suppose it could be. With a pair of wings and the spirit, a lot of things are possible. Where should I go today?
Like all of us, there are closer destinations for me that still unveil the magic of it all. I live in Florida, so Key West is an alluring option. The land beneath me there curves from a north-south orientation to an east-west one. It always confuses my sense of direction when I approach the spit of land at the bottom of the state. Maybe I’ll bring the dogs. I’ll check the weather. It’s so easy. All I have to do is pick up my phone, hit an app, and voilà—I have current weather and forecasts up to a week. I’m so spoiled, it’s like, “Shall I drive the red Porsche or the green one?” Do I go down the east coast of Florida, fly under Miami’s Class B with its impressive cityscape and then south to the Keys, flying by Ocean Reef, Islamorada, or do I choose a more direct route over to the West Coast of Florida, to Fort Myers, Naples, down the remote and exotic southwestern shoreline where I sometimes see flocks of the bright pink roseate spoonbill? Both routes are interesting. Flying west keeps me out of busier airspace, but on the east coast I can fly in front of Miami Beach, low, out of airspace, below the high-rise hotels, to where the Keys start.
The wild thing about all this: I don’t have to file a flight plan and I don’t have to ask permission. I may or may not use flight following. And, I don’t even have to be rich to do this. Freedom.
Am I spoiled? Yes, I’m totally ruined. I can go anytime. I can fly farther, the Bahamas, maybe. Anyone can do this. Flying in the U.S. is so easy, with the services available—weather, flight following, numerous airports. And, I appreciate it. I’m profoundly grateful. I value it. I cherish it.
It’s not the same everywhere. In fact, it’s not really the same anywhere else. I know. I’ve flown overseas, in many countries, and flying everywhere else is, to one degree or another, less free than it is here. It’s more logistically difficult, more bureaucratically challenging, way more expensive and, so, a lot less fun.
Flying in the U.S. is so easy, in fact, that many general aviation pilots don’t know how lucky they are. We all have to play by the rules, sure. I have to worry about keeping myself current to fly, keeping my medical up to date, staying well trained and confident, preflighting my airplane, maintaining it in good condition, but once I do all that, I’m on my own. Things I don’t have to worry about are asking permission to go somewhere, filing a flight plan, worrying about user fees or landing fees (unless I park at a large FBO, and even then they’re reasonable for small planes).
As in all things in flying, freedom isn’t free. We all need to bring our A-game to the cockpit. Discipline, training, meticulousness and being impeccable in your procedures, whether preparing your airplane for a cross-country or competing in an aerobatic contest, give us the confidence to know that we’re ready for the mission, as well as freedom from unnecessary worry. In this we can gain the max enjoyment from our flying experience. We get what we ask for. We get what we put into it. I’m all about max enjoyment.
Some people like a lot of rules and restrictions. It gives them guidelines on how to live. I’m not one of them. I want less and like to govern myself using highway rules. Stay right and don’t hit anyone. Pay attention, have integrity, share the road with others and they might share it with you, knowing that how I handle myself affects everyone else. We don’t operate in a vacuum. And, because I don’t want to deal with authority, I keep things clean and neat so I don’t have to any more than necessary. Sometimes I ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not because it’s smart, but because I can. On a cross-country flight, I don’t always call flight following because I don’t have to, but I do when I need it or feel it’s safer in congested airspace. And, I don’t file flight plans anymore—although I would if it were safer to do so.
Which in some ways makes it harder for general aviation pilots to be safe. My mentality is that I don’t want authority figures telling me how to do it—I want them to educate me. Some people are used to a lot of regulations and authority figures butting their noses into their business, so they expect it. Does it keep us any safer? Not in my book. The GA pilot is on their own in a lot of ways, and because the rules of the road are all about “no littering,” it’s my responsibility to be a good citizen so others don’t have to pick up after me—it’s up to me to keep things free and easy for the rest of us. This means doing the right thing—staying healthy and current, keeping my airplane well maintained and trying hard not to do anything dumb (like run out of fuel) or forget the landing gear. Regulators often feel that more regulations equate to safety and I disbelieve that, so why give the regulators more reason to impose more rules? I say, let’s not give them the chance.
As much as I try not to stray from the straight and narrow—and, let’s face it, I get it out of my system by raging around low-level at airshows—there are times when it’s really fun to push things. Sometimes that just means watching the skyline of Miami drift by behind me, cruising over the green-blue waters of Biscayne Bay, not talking to anyone, not following any course except the one the shoreline makes, in touch with pure freedom, the essence of why I fly.