“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure – aviation offers it all”
– Charles A. Lindbergh
I am a teacher of flight. So, in my profession, I have the pleasure of introducing a lot of people to a first flight experience. Although many of them have been passengers on airline flights, that is the limit of their experience in regards to flight. Thus, many of them already have a preconceived notion of the flight experience, which happens to be a long wait in a security line, a squeeze into a tiny seat, a view out of a tiny window, and a wait for their bags as they arrive (hopefully) at their destination. I’m sorry, but that is not flying. It is being transported by one of the numerous means of transportation. The magic of flight is a much more intimate experience.
I give a briefing to my clients once they arrive. I tell them that although the airplane in which they are about to fly is much smaller, the physics are all still the same; wings create lift, engine pulls the airplane through the air. The only major difference is that I do not offer cabin service, nor is there anybody kicking the back of the seat. Next, I show how to inspect the airplane for airworthiness, and then we go flying. I have performed scores of discovery flights, and I have yet to find disappointment at the end of the flight.
So, what is so great about it? I have one word that best describes it: peace. We live in a hectic world. We sit in traffic. We are constantly exposed to noise. We have demands in life. We constantly have people and/or things demanding our attention. Once I am in the air, that all disappears. I hear the reassuring hum of the engine. I can hear the wind whistling through the air vents. I can see the traffic crawling down below me. I can feel the sun on my face. I can see a perspective of the clouds and the earth stretching out below me that nobody on the ground can visualize. My cell phone isn’t ringing. It is just me and my craft and the air – nothing else. Even when I am with my students, I still feel a sense of peace. As the airplane leaves the ground, the stresses of life also metaphorically stay on the ground.
Flying involves a lot of science. I sometimes reflect that with all of the recent emphasis on STEM programs, teaching high school aged youths how to fly would cover much of that in a single session. The physical ability of controlling the airplane takes very little time. Most of the time involved in getting one’s pilot certificate consists of much practical application of book knowledge. For instance, learning the basics of physics, aerodynamics, airport environments, rules of the air, mechanical workings of an airplane, and basic weather theory. It is a lot to learn, but it awakens a segment of the brain that has most likely never been used.
Flying incorporates freedom. I’m not referring to political freedom here, just the type of freedom that allows one to see what is beyond the horizon, just like the early explorers ventured beyond the horizon just to see what was there. It also incorporates freedom from stress and busyness, just like I mentioned above. It is the freedom to experience the peace and serenity of unbridled travel through the “footless halls of air”*.
Flying is beautiful. Standing on the ground only provides a two-dimensional view of life. Travel just a couple of hundred feet into the air, and I witness an unmatched view that very few experience. A look at the clouds from below does not match the sheer expanse that is visible when looking at one from aloft. The size of a cloud inspires a sense of awe as I fly next to it. The world is a large and beautiful place. Airplanes allow access to it.
Flying involves a certain amount of adventure. Although not nearly as dangerous as it once was, it still invokes a passion for discovering what is beyond the horizon. The Recreational Vehicle industry has an excellent marketing campaign that encourages people to get off the beaten path and explore just for the sake of exploring. The same concept applies to flying. Many pilots like to fly to different airports just to explore a new area, or patronize one of the many excellent restaurants located at the numerous airports across the country. Also, there are many places to see that a highway just cannot access. Roads can only take someone so far.
Cessna Aircraft company produced a marketing campaign a few years ago that said in effect that the Earth is made up of 70 percent water, 30 percent land, and 100 percent air. I’m thankful that I have access to all that air.
*Thanks to John P. Gillespie Magee, Jr. for “High Flight”