First, thanks so much for the excellent responses. They are thoughtful, encouraging, and insightful.
To read words from intelligent minds gives me hope that this sampling is a model for Humans as a whole.
When people ask, “Hey, this Flying thing—what’s so special about it?” , words tumble out of my brain in a rush to be heard and in doing so, logjam as I stand open-mouthed-silent. Untangling the beautiful mess into something intelligable takes a heartbeat or two.
Where do I start? This is a huge question that has been answered by so many more eloquent than I from every possible point of view through time, I feel like I should simply hand over a card with a list of author’s names on it, smile and turn away.
I’ll try here, though, just for you.
Let me break Flight down into categories:
Science: from the physics involved to the exploration of the feel of the forces on our Selves when we fly to all that is encompassed by meteorology, navigation, geology, geography, the beauty of the air traffic control system, the fluid that is the atmosphere, engineering, the mathematics we use to help us fly efficiently—those of us that love the interaction of all these disciplines get that much more out of a simple jaunt around the patch of sky over our little airports. If we are ignorant of Science, we miss the subtle underpinning of the workings of the world and our part in it.
Not to worry, though. I’m not saying we don’t enjoy our flight for other reasons like;
Art: These machines have inherent in them the lovely forms that allow function. The sweep of a wing, the curve of a rudder, the symmetry in a well-flown formation, the magic of the deep purple of the terminator as night chases day around us. We fly high and see patterns etched in the earth below us, the roil of the tapestry in the clouds above us, the colors steeped in the very air about us.
This chair in the air is an intimate place from which to watch uninterrupted beauty: the Art of the World.
History: I enjoy most those airplanes designed in the 1920s through 1950s. There was care in the creation of these machines hand-built to give the flyers of the day a passport to a country restless just above the heads of the timid among them. We can feel that as we fly, open cockpit, noise and wind tearing at our attention, infusing our senses with the smell of —well everything. We are uninsulated from our environment yet connected to those hands that welded steel tube or glued spruce into intricate forms for flight. We can feel them there with us though they themselves may be long gone.
These old wings carried heroes across oceans and dark continents, carried villains in black and white across movie screens. They carried an entire populations’ hopes and dreams around the world with them as the pilots in command tested themselves on the grand stage that is the atmosphere.
These old wings are in themselves time machines. We fly down the Mississippi River on a hazy summer day behind a round engine that first fired in 1939 and we cannot find evidence that it is not 1940. We fly a 1929 Travel Air at corn tassle height in Iowa and cannot be convinced the Great American Flying Circus (established 1922) is not waiting for us just over the slight rise ahead. History is stitched into the wings themselves and they invite us to become a part of it.
Sport: My challenge, every flight , is to fly it perfectly. From engine start to shutdown, I seek the smoothest take-off, the most efficient cruise, the most elegant approach, the most beautiful touchdown. When I fly aerobatics, I strive to carve a lovely line with the minimum of brute force. When I soar, I fly an efficient silent ship, thermal to thermal or ridgeline to mountain wave trying to best my time aloft each flight. My longest so far, 5hrs 35 mins. Until last week, it was my longest flight in any aircraft. Now, a transcontinental flight in a 737 holds that mark. I will try again.
The sport of flying is about the personal challenge of one’s Self to do more than just stay alive—it is the about the picking up of the gauntlet to Be Alive!
Life: I think of the Aviation World as a small one. When I leave the Earth, I am no longer connected to Anyone—but feel as though I am connected to Everyone.
The kid that waves huge waves at me when I circle slowly over her head. She is my friend now. I’ve nudged her life in a very small way in a subtly new direction.
The passenger I flew over glass-smooth water, our wings lit from below by sunset. She never said a word until 12 years later in a postcard thanking me for showing her what her career should be. She is now an airline Captain and in the crazy machinations this career can throw at you—she is senior to me.
Flying has a way of touching Life. There is something in it for everyone that walks the planet with us when we choose to walk. When we choose to fly, we weave patterns irresistible to Fate whose hands then drop quiet suggestion for any witness in reach.
I could go on and on, I suppose, but I want to leave something undiscovered for You to be surprised by, to savor and to share.
Photo: copyright 2009 Rob Bach