“We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup… And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know—that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.” — Beryl Markham, West with the Night
Traditionally, there’s been an element to a pilot’s personality that turns upon adventure. Whether it expresses itself in the desire to seek, test or master depends further upon the person—but many pilots still list a type of adventurousness as a reason why they fly.
To see the world from above. To challenge our skills. To find an outlet for our determination and need for accomplishment. I have been drawn to aviation for all of these reasons—and I’ll add more that speak to adventure, such as discovering a view of places as I travel the world that is open to pilots alone. Stringing together a cross-country route between popular airport cafes takes you on a very different path across the US than going from convenience store to gas station, truck stop to fast-food drive-through on the interstate.
But we don’t remain pilots for long if that sense of adventure isn’t tempered with caution. That intrepidness must be grounded in respect for the laws of physics—and a willingness to work within the laws of our society, an overall mindfulness of action.
Add to this sense of adventure another twist true of many aviators: John and Martha King have talked often about the fact that pilots are goal-oriented—and this is both a blessing and a curse. Completing a flight feeds this feeling, but doing so at all costs can be fatally self-limiting.
Factor in a third element: We all make mistakes. It’s intrinsic to the human condition—and certainly to the pilot one. These lapses run from forgetting to secure the door over the oil dipstick or remove a nosewheel chock before flight to errors in judgment, when we either fail to factor in the true risks of a situation or place other goals—such as getting home—above staying safe.
Read more letters from Julie Boatman: View From Above
Our sense of adventure may lead to deliberate actions that have unintended consequences. We have learned a lot from the poor choices of others through the years in our I Learned About Flying from That series, which is now on its 961st installment. You can also catch at least 14 episodes of our ILAFFT podcast online, hosted by airshow announcer and experienced RV pilot Rob Reider, in which more pilots share their stories.
These pilots often talk about what they’d do differently given the chance.
On March 2, 2020, Flying columnist Martha Lunken made a choice. The deliberate action was completely in keeping with her own strong sense of adventure—yet it ran counter to the willingness to abide by regulations that underpinned her career as an instructor and examiner, as well as the accomplishments she’d held dear.
Lunken tells her story in her column this month, “A Little Too Unusual,” and we have published a selection of letters from Flying readers that we received after the news of her certificate revocation broke in April. We expect to hear your thoughts on the questions and concerns raised by both the incident and her response to it, as well as our own. It’s a conversation worth having because those elements of adventure, achievement and pilot error play within most all of us who fly.
This story appeared in the August 2021 issue of Flying Magazine