I don’t imagine aviation is unique in that there is a great divide between the “haves” and “have nots,” – and I’m not talking about having either airplanes, or money. It’s about having passion for the activity or, more accurately, the lifestyle.
On the one hand are those who have a passion for aviation. I suspect most regular readers of this magazine fall in that category. Some of us may think it has always been this way as we can’t remember a time when we didn’t yearn for the sky, while others can recall a specific time or circumstance that led them to discover the joy of flying.
On the other hand are those who find themselves puzzled by pilots’ passion. They just don’t “get it,” and they are even more baffled (or downright frustrated) when a pilot responds with “whaddya mean you don’t get it – how can you not understand?” Yes, I too have been guilty of that reaction. I’d like to think I’ve managed to conceal it, but I’m sure I’ve been less than completely successful.
The fact of the matter is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate about aviation. Neither is there anything wrong with being indifferent to it. But as many of us have seen this divide can pose problems with people in those “have/have not” relationships. There may not be anything either person can do to change the fundamental situation but it could be helpful if the pilot could better convey why aviation is such a big deal to people who just don’t seem to understand.
Bach to the Rescue
Enter Richard Bach. Though Bach is best known as the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, regular readers of this column know that I am a fervent fan of his aviation writing. I cannot think of any writer who better conveys the science, the art, the poetry, the beauty, and the mystery of flying. So, if you are a pilot seeking to explain these things, or a pilot’s companion seeking to better understand, I highly recommend acquiring a copy of Bach’s Gift of Wings. In the meantime allow me to point to a few of my favorites from this small volume of essays.
Perhaps my very favorite piece in the entire Bach canon is an essay called “Why You Need An Airplane. and How to Get It.” No other author I know has even come close to matching this essay’s ability to describe the “principle of the sky, a spirit of flight that calls to certain among mankind as the wilderness calls to some and the sea to others.” Bach goes on to note that for those who discover this principle; “(f)light, to you, is a required essential tool in your mission of becoming a human being.”
Another favorite is a slightly mysterious essay called “Steel, Aluminum, Nuts, and Bolts.” From the very first sentence, the narrator is this tale staunchly maintains that “an airplane is a machine. It is not possible for it to be alive. Nor is it possible for it to wish or to hope or to hate or to love.” He goes on to say that regardless of our fanciful notions, “there is no sentence, no word, no hint in any technical manual ever printed that even remotely says that this machine’s performance can possibly change because of a pilot’s hopes or his dreams, or his kindness to his airplane.” And yet …? Ah, but I won’t spoil the story for you. The ambiguous conclusion does nothing to dispel most pilots’ belief that an airplane is much more than just a collection of steel, aluminum, nuts, and bolts.
Then there is “Return of a Lost Pilot” – the lovely story of a lapsed pilot who regains his long-faded passion for life by returning to the sky: “He doesn’t have to use a lot of words. He can communicate through flying.” And in the end, “my friend … who had been dead himself for so long, was flying. He was alive again.”
On a similar note – and one fitting close to this special pilot companion- themed issue of FAA Safety Briefing – is Bach’s “Girl from A Long Time Ago.” A pilot takes his spouse flying, and then worries that the discomfort of the open-cockpit biplane will worsen her indifference to his particular passion. She reaches for a pencil to write a message – the only way to communicate in the circumstances – and he fully expects to see “let’s quit” when she hands him it. He takes it with trepidation, and reads its single word; “FUN! with a little laughing face drawn alongside.”
Fun indeed. May you and yours share and savor every moment of the fun, the adventure, the art, and the beauty of the Very Big Deal called flying. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug 2014)