The “Why” of Why Flying Is So Forfilling

Over the years, I have counted many interesting friends all from my car club. Among those was a past squadron commander of Beale AFB’s famous SR-71 squadron. I can’t forget a man who was a staff psychologist for the California Dept of Corrections who, upon reading my articles in the club newsletter, found me to be a “fascinating study”. Don’t know how much I wish to delve into that observation 😉

There was a man who in his latter career of the Air Force was an accident investigator.

I guess my club was heavy in aviation people. Among those members is a man that also has an impressive aviation resume who retired as a Boeing 777 Captain. He is very well versed in all things aviation.

I have been helping him get an interesting plane back into the air. According to an ad I read yesterday, there are 2 airworthy examples, about to become 3.

A plane that, despite its slow performance, has an impressive pedigree, being built by the same people who build the MiGs.

My own flying resume is quite a bit more humble. Despite a rocky start, I went on to get my private pilot’s license and accrued a massive 200-250 hours. I don’t want to go rummaging through the garage to get an accurate count 😉

If you rent small general aviation aircraft, you are billed based on time by the Hobbs Meter. And Mr. Hobbs doesn’t care whether you are flying, taxiing, or just sitting on the ground idling. An hour is an hour. Unlike the hour meter on the tachometer, which records 1 hour  only at “normal speed” when the engine is revving at operational RPM  (ie, airborne).

Anyway the last flight I had as pilot in command, the airport was busy. It took me 45 minutes from start up to takeoff clearance. And despite the plane being pretty humble, I realized in that 45 minutes I had just spent $100. And hadn’t even gotten airborne yet.

Flying never has been cheap.

So we got the doors of the MiGlet back on and headed for lunch at the restaurant at the airport.

I made the comment that for me flying was always the most curious mixture of freedom and discipline. You have to have the discipline to know when to go, and when not to go.

You have to be aware of the weight and balance limitations of your aircraft. Not only how much you can carry, but where you put it.

You have to be aware of where you are. To be at your assigned altitude and heading. You have to, in your flight planning, account for winds aloft.

And yet, when you are in the air as pilot in command, you realize your fate is in your hands. Some things stay in your mind like beautiful photographs.

I can remember flying from Monterey and at 5,000 feet, over the hills surrounding San Jose seeing a fire fighting operation. It was a perfect choreography below me  with the spotter planes directing the tankers.

When I worked for Cessna in Wichita and flew the club aircraft, I once became  “temporarily” disoriented. The solution in the Midwest? Drop down like a bird to read the town’s name on their water tower.

When I would land my mind would always be refreshed. Cleared of all extraneous junk.

Well, usually 😉

And my friend made a very succinct point as to why flying is so important to so many. That is, a pilot utilizes both the left and right side of the brain.

“The left brain is more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations.” 

“The right brain is more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.” 

The left side tends towards the logical side while the right side tends towards the artistic side.

There is an artistry to flying, as Lex observed.  The old man helped  with tailwheel landings not by giving speeds, but how you feel.  How does the plane feel?

“…The old guy had been watching, and he followed me to the vending machine. There, he asked if I wanted him to share the secret of wheel landings. Of course!

He stood close and softly said: “Don’t land.”

I stared back blankly.

“I mean it,” he said. “Don’t land. Try to fly one foot off the ground the entire length of the runway. Intellectually, we both know you won’t be carrying enough power to maintain level flight that long. But just project your mind down the runway—all the way down the runway—and tell yourself you’re going to keep on flying. Be surprised when those main wheels kiss the ground…”

I think my friend gave the best explanation as to why flying is so important to so many of us.

Update 08-11-18 – It’s either a tradition among bloggers in general or Lex in particular but he never changed his posts once published but added updates. In any event, I wanted to include 2 more examples of the beauty of flight as an art.

Imagine doing a 360 degree turn and you come back across your prop wash from a moment ago. The aircraft has a slight bump as you know you just hit it.  The altimeter hand is nailed right where your altitude is, not changing. Then maybe you do another 360 for 720 and hit the propwash….again.

That is pure beauty.

I was trying to find the post that lex mentioned the following but alas after a short Google search I am coming up short. But he is at a San Diego airfield, probably Gillespie, and he is practicing his touch and goes in his ancient Aeronca and has noticed – among several visits – a man who is flying a simple taildragger – a Piper Cub – absolutely nailing his landings in his own touch and goes.

The way lex described it, in his approach to the runway it was almost like ballet. If I come across it I will update this yet again, but these are some examples that illustrate the beauty – and right-brained flying – of flight.

Lex loved flight for the beauty that was in it – and it didn’t matter whether he was flying an FA-18 or a 60 year old Aeronca. But I think he was glad to move on from that old Aeronca 😉


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