There’s a remarkable sensation that I get just about every time I go flying. It usually hits me after I’ve gotten handed off to departure by the guys in the tower and after I’ve got a clearance to climb for a while. It’s a feeling of tremendous well being, that everything is okay in the world, that I’ve arrived. Well, I do need to level off and switch fuel tanks. And I can never help thinking about how miserable I would be if I’d flown the airlines that day, x-rayed, prodded, herded and crammed, instead of . . . well, instead of this. It’s a pinch-me kind of moment.
It’s a profound feeling but it’s only one of several key reasons why we fly. There’s also the sense of pride we get in doing something that’s hard to do well, so hard, in fact, that we still brag about good landings after having flown for thousands of hours and decades. For those of us who own airplanes, there’s also the pride of ownership, a very real connection to the hardware that makes what we do possible. There’s the sense of community, the feeling that we’re part of a family of pilots worldwide who share a secret knowledge of what it’s really like to be the one at the controls of a flying machine. (Don’t tell anyone, but it’s really fun.) And there’s the sense of our places in history, our small but important spot in the arc of a still very young activity, one that has seen the state of the art advance from man-carrying kites to spacecraft in the course of little more than 100 years. How can any of us not feel an overwhelming sense of good fortune that we’ve wound up where we are, in the position during our very short time on this planet to do something really extraordinary.
That’s why I’m amazed when I hear people express pessimism about the future of what we do. I mean, how full of oneself must one be to fail to see that other pilots and future pilots are just like us, that the things we find compelling about flying are the exact same things in different wrappers that the next guy and the next guy’s sons and daughters will find compelling, too.
Sure, there are obstacles, economic, political, and technological.
But you know what? This thing we do is all about overcoming obstacles, including some fundamentally difficult ones, like gravity, that when you think about it, put the high cost of fuel in perspective.
So it’s not a question of how small an industry can we sustain but how do we arrive at a future brighter than any we could have previously imagined. It takes determination, vision and the profound belief that what we do is special.
And is it ever.