My Version of Airplane Heaven…What’s Yours?

When you pass through those Pearly Gates, make sure to close your life’s flight plan. Dan Pimentel

If you've ever seen "What Dreams May Come,” with Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, you know it's a beautiful and extravagant movie that won the 1998 Oscar for Visual Effects. But as easy as this great flick is on the eyes, it is the story that grabs your heart and refuses to let go.

So what does this movie have to do with airplanes? Great question…read on.

The movie’s premise is based on of what his heaven would look like after he dies in a car crash scene and is reunited with family that has preceded him in death. It is a living, Robin’s perception moving Van Gogh painting, with masterfully illuminated, digitally created vistas that stretch to the edge of every frame.

Watching it took me to a place I have been often, a place I call my own Airplane Heaven. If the premise of the film is to be embraced, then we create our Heaven in the image we imagine in our thoughts. I have experienced my own Airplane Heaven often, starting soon after my dad died in 1991. I have been there so many times now, the scene is etched in my mind forever.

In my Airplane Heaven, there are no rivers of wine and endless tables of gourmet food, as some have suggested greet the chosen in the popular view of Heaven. But there is an automatic gate that’s opened by keying in a series of secret numbers known only to those who are lucky enough to visit my magical place. And that river of wine…is an assortment of imported and craft beer—your favorite brands of course—and the food is a combination of T-bone steaks, tacos, $100 hamburgers, organic greens, and cheesecake. Those brats the pilots are eating over at my never-ending hangar party are TWO FEET LONG, cooked on a grill so big it makes Johnsonville’s “World’s Largest Grill” look like a hibachi.

In my Airplane Heaven, the ramp is filled with one flyable version of every airplane ever made. All are in perfect condition, gleaming under a crystal-clear blue sky, keys in the ignition and the tanks full of fuel—which, by the way, flows freely from wells stretching to the horizon. Since this is my Heaven, I hold type ratings for everything ever made, and spend my days throughout eternity making the daily decision about which of these many airplanes I get to fly today. Maybe I'll pull out the 787 Dreamliner, or wring out Sean D. Tucker’s Oracle Challenger III—the choices are truly endless. Spend the day in the B-17 or blast off in a P-51 Mustang? Can do.

In my Airplane Heaven, everyone is there, enjoying the airport. There’s my dad, affectionately called “Papa Louie” sitting in his new HondaJet…and is that Art Scholl in the right seat? I suspect Art and Dad are going up again to see just how far upside down they can get that HondaJet today. Oh what, you didn't think an HA-420 was certified for aerobatics? Remember, this is Airplane Heaven, so every airplane is certified for aerobatics if you want them to be.

And at the Airport Café (which has a tanker truck of coffee out back) we find Lindbergh, sitting with Amelia and Fred Noonan, talking navigation, no doubt. Lindy is toying with Amelia, showing her pictures of the new Garmin G1000 NXi Touch panel he’s installing in the “Spirit of St. Louis”...he's like that you know, always the jokester. “Can’t get lost with this baby,” Lindy says, grinning. And check out the crowd over at Jimmy Doolittle’s hangar, gathered around his solid gold B-25. There's a jukebox playing music from the 1940s, and a barrel of coins next to it so the dancing never ends.

Yes, friends, if the premise of “What Dreams May Come” is to be believed, then this is my Airplane Heaven. Only in the movie, they also visit hell, which is about as nasty as you might imagine. But what, you might be asking, is my vision of Airplane Hell?

Strangely at first glance, it appears identical to my Airplane Heaven. There before you stretch endless rows of perfectly airworthy airplanes, keys resting in the ignition. The weather is clear and a million, and you’ve got nothing to do all day but fly…after all, you’re dead, so your iCalendar is wide open.

Only one major difference…in my Airplane Hell, there is no gas. Not a drop of avgas or Jet-A to be found anywhere. All that hardware is there only to torment your soul as you stand helpless on a blistering hot ramp, awash in pity as you loathe your future, which could not possibly be more bleak. As you stand there contemplating spending eternity in this horrible place, off on the horizon comes a low rumbling noise. The noise becomes louder, and as the skies darken with the wings of a thousand airplanes blocking out the sun, your hell becomes unbearable as all the pilots from over the hill in my Airplane Heaven buzz you with a high-speed, low pass, one after the other, all laughing as they firewall their throttles and burn more of their endless free fuel.

Yes, our world is what our thoughts make it. You can choose to live in a dark world filled with broken dreams, anger, and unsatisfied resolutions, or push on courageously to new and glorious heights. Do right by everyone, practice kindness, and introduce flying to anyone you meet, and you should be good to go. Just remember to close your life’s flight plan upon entering the airport gates into my Airplane Heaven.

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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