When we Launched Why Fly, I wrote an article titled, “Under the ‘B’.” And while that piece certainly tells the tale of how I learned to fly, I still don’t feel it truly answers the question, “Why?” And if I can’t elucidate that answer myself, how can I possibly ask others to come up with their own response?
Okay … so … why do I fly? … still … some 50 years after leaving the ground for the first time. After twenty-one engine failures, two spectacular crashes, and more close-calls than I care to remember?
I think that’s the most important question a person can ask … about themselves … about why we do the things we do … about why others do what they do. If we can understand why someone does something, their formerly incomprehensible, behaviour suddenly snaps into focus and we can begin to see the world through their eyes.
Yes, Glenn. That’s all very fine in a philosophical way, but you’re dodging the question:
Why do you Fly?
(Sidebar: I hate my inner voice. The damn thing never lets me get away with anything. )
As I wrote in “Under the ‘B’,” I know my initial fascination for flying is the result of being a Baby Boomer – born in England shortly after the Second World War – and that I lived just down the road from Biggin Hill Airport. I understand that my childhood heroes were the inconceivably, brave young men – and women – who flew in that war (and if you don’t think there were female fighter pilots in WW2, google “Night Witches.”) I “get” that my favourite English, comic book character was The Lion’s, Pilot-Hero “Paddy Payne,” and that I grew up watching the weekly adventures of “Sky King” on T.V. (which made me believe it was perfectly normal to have an airplane parked out back … which we pretty well have done for the past 35 years!)
Okay. So those were my childhood influences, and while they were obviously important they still don’t explain why I fly.
Despite my Acrophobia (and there’s no point kidding anyone – my fear of heights is severe,) I managed to become a pilot. At first, I thought it was to overcome that fear. But, like many/most pilots I know, the Acrophobia remains (though not in an airplane!!!) So that isn’t the reason.
There are clues in my very first flight. The terror I felt before take off … then … the awe – the wonder – that flooded through every atom of my being as we left the ground.
Left the ground … that feeling alone should be enough to explain my passion for flight – and passion is the only word I can think of that even comes close to explaining what I feel about being in the air.
I mean, it doesn’t make sense. It never has. Every time I taxi out, line up, and push in the throttle, the far end of that absurdly short runway comes racing towards me, and I still feel, “it isn’t going to work – not this time.”
But every time I pull back on the stick (with one notable exception), it has! And that 1 – 2,000 lbs + of machinery, passenger and me has lifted off the ground and soared (or at the very least, grudgingly climbed) up into the gases of our tenuous atmosphere.
“Defying Gravity,” that’s how it’s so often described.
But for me, MAGIC is the word that always pops into my head.
The sensation of flight – of leaving the ground behind – is, for me, nothing short of miraculous.
(Courtesy: Michelle Goodeve)
Don’t get me wrong. I fully grasp all the rational explanations. I understand the curve of a wing is sucking, more than pushing, my aeroplane into the air. I have way more experience with the fight of lift vs. drag than anyone should have endured. I comprehend that there is nothing more miraculous in my flying through our planet’s ocean of air, than a fish swimming through the waters in the sea.
And yet, I can’t help myself.
Flying – for me – is … Magic!
And once I’m up there…
There is something going on when I’m so utterly focussed on flying the plane, and monitoring the instruments, and reading the maps, and watching for traffic and keeping an eye on the weather – even listening to the radio (if I must ). There is something about the “white noise” of the wind and the engine that soothes my soul like nothing else I know.
And in truth, I have to admit that the only time I truly feel “At Peace” is when I am at the controls of an airplane.
Time on the ground is time spent waiting to fly again.
Yes. That’s a lot of the “why.”
But that isn’t all of it.
When you’re flying an airplane, you can go – with very few exceptions – anywhere.
Your path isn’t dictated by roads or rivers or railways (unless you happen to be following one).
If you want to know what’s over that hill on the right, you just tug on the stick, press gently on the rudder, and – within seconds – you are there … and you have your answer.
There is no other vehicle – not motorcycle – not 4X4 – not scoot –– not hovercraft – that can give you the unfettered freedom you experience when you’re flying your own airplane.
Despite all the rules and regulations, all the fear-driven, overreactions to the horror of 9/11 (and how dare those bastards use our beloved flying machines in their murderous plot), I can still keep an airplane tied down in the field behind our house, climb into it whenever I want (weather permitting), and lift myself off the ground into the utter freedom of flight.
Yes, that’s another very important part of this puzzle.
But there’s more. I know there’s more.
It has something to do with my instant reaction to Barnstorming – the way my particular passion leans towards old, open-cockpit airplanes … the older, the better.
Perhaps, because there is something about those old Flying Machines that doesn’t demand rationalization. They’re not efficient. They’re cantankerous … demanding … cold … and altogether wondrous.
Well, I guess … because they’re unashamedly Romantic.
It doesn’t take much to talk someone into a flight in a Tiger Moth … or a Pietenpol … or an open-door, Piper Cub. Just about everyone seems to know that they have to go up in one of these Magic-Machines, should the opportunity ever present itself.
(Courtesy: Michelle Goodeve)
And when they do go up, I’ve watched – every single time – in the eyes of every one of the thousands of passengers I’ve flown – fear evaporate in nanoseconds, as the awesome beauty of flight overwhelms them.
Fear turned to beauty. Can there be a greater gift?
People seem to instinctively know that – like a motorcycle – like a convertible – these old Aeroplanes will allow them to see their familiar world in a way they’ve never experienced before.
What they don’t know, what they can’t know, is that – for a lucky few – their world will never be the same again.
There is something about physically removing a person from the ground – letting them see their familiar world from above – that smacks the smart ones on the back of the head – forces them to understand that there is more than one way to look at everything.
After spending our lives scurrying around below, we are lifted above it all and – staring down from a whole new point of view – suddenly realize how our part of the world, how our lives, fit into the grand scheme of things.
Yes. That’s what it is; the sudden awakening of that stunning reality in those I’ve taken with me into the clear, perfect blue. And – watching them – that constant reminder to never hang on to one point of view; to always consider all the alternatives.
That’s the other reason I fly.
Magic … Peace … Beauty … Romance … Perspective.
Yes … I think that’s all of it.
There’s one more thing.
As a matter of fact – for me – it’s the most important factor of all.
It took me a long time to learn this one, and I doubt I ever would, were it not for my Partner.
Michelle “got it” right away. But the journey to that understanding was a long and difficult one; so I think I’ll save that part of my story, that part of my “why,” for another time.
All I will say is that I’ve come to learn that the single, greatest joy I’ve experienced in my entire life is the time when I’m flying in formation with Michelle.
Grinning across the few feet of air that separates us, we are never closer
(Courtesy: Bruce “Rotten” Paylor)
There is so much more to say on this…
But for now…
Magic … Peace … Freedom … Romance … Beauty … Perspective … Equality.
Yes. That’s it.
That’s why I fly.
(Courtesy: Bruce “Rotten” Paylor)