What It Means To Be a Pilot Today

If you could pick any era in the admittedly brief history of powered flight in which to be a pilot, what year or decade would you choose?

Would you desire to be a pioneer of flight, using your unfair knowledge of aerodynamics and aircraft systems to build and pilot early machines that could fly circles around Orville and Wilbur? Would you prefer to be a part of aviation's Golden Age, alighting in wood-and-fabric biplanes and streamlined metal monoplanes in the 1920s and 30s? Do the warbirds of World War II stir your soul? Or does the jet age kindle your love for all things aeronautical?

I know what era I would choose. If I could be a pilot at any time since 1903, I would pick today, 2015.

Why is that? Because unlike those bygone eras, as a pilot today I can choose to fly any number of amazing airplanes, from a Curtiss Jenny to a Piper J-3 Cub to a P-51 Mustang to a Cirrus SR22 to an Icon A5. I can fly with the warm wind beating against my face in an open cockpit Stearman or I can sit behind big LCD screens and follow synthetic highways in the sky, flitting through magenta boxes floating in a computer-generated world.

I can climb aboard something with a tailwheel and fat tires and hit the gravel bars of Alaska, or I can strap in behind a Pratt & Whitney PT6A and use the myriad of digital cockpit tools at my disposal for a very different kind of flying adventure, but one that is no less rewarding or satisfying.

My only lament is that I can't do everything I want to in aviation, at least not until I win the lottery or my tech startup idea magically receives the funding it deserves. But I can do pretty much anything I want to. And so can you.

You can head down to a local flight school for an hour of tailwheel instruction in an iconic antique airplane. You can learn to fly aerobatics in an Extra 300. You can buy (or rent) an airplane with all the latest amazing technology, from SVS to WAAS to ADS-B. You can camp underneath your wing at Oshkosh. You can fly on floats, as a regular activity or just for the incredible experience of touching down on glassy water. You can because you are a pilot today.

As pilots in this era, we have more opportunities to experience the joys and thrills of flight than any who have come before us, even if we might miss out on the chance to pilot an SR-71 or Concorde (though there are sims for that).

This should engender a deep sense of contentment among today's pilots. It's a great time to be a part of this special fraternity.

Really, there's only one group of pilots we should envy, and that's the younger generation who will get to keep flying long after we are finished, possibly in electric airplanes with incredible technologies we can't even imagine today.

Lucky them. I wish I could be around to be a part of it.

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