Aviation, with its airways and electronic navigation stations and humming autopilots, is a science. Flying, with its chugging biplanes and swift racers, with its aerobatics and its soaring, is an art. (…) Aviation or Flying, take your choice. There is nothing in all the world quite like either one of them.
— Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings
Airplanes raise us above the patterns of streets, forests, suburbs, schools, and rivers. The ordinary things we thought we knew become new or more beautiful, and the visible relationships between them on the land, particularly at night, hint at the circuitry of more or less everything.
— Mark Vanhoenacker, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot
Regular readers will know that I have long cherished Richard Bach’s Gift of Wings as “the” lodestar, because the beautifully written essays so deftly express the many dimensions of our collective love for Aviation and/or Flying. A few years ago, though, I was delighted to discover a second touchstone book in Mark Vanhoenacker’s Skyfaring. As he writes in an early chapter, “so high above the world, open to more of the planet and sky than any species has the right to see, we find room for introspection in one of the last places we might have thought to look for it.”
The Science and the Art
If you haven’t read these books, I commend them to you — along with the beautifully presented 2015 Living in the Age of Airplanes film, which tells the compelling story of how the airplane has so utterly changed the world in little more than a century.
These works are wonderful on their own terms, but I have a special reason for recommending them here and now. We have devoted this issue of FAA Safety Briefing to what back to basics means in terms of the aviate-navigate-communicate-mitigate framework. We have necessarily focused almost exclusively on what Bach calls the “science” that he defines as the realm of the Aviator. So it seems appropriate — even essential — to close this edition by acknowledging the equal importance of the Flyer’s more poetic approach to defining the basics. Here’s why.
Whether you are sky-bound as a pilot or as a passenger, the complexities of the modern world can add an incredible hassle-factor to, well, everything. I don’t have to describe the irritations and inconveniences that so often bedevil today’s airline passengers. For GA pilots, there are challenges of weather, of time, of expense. For airline pilots, there are also challenges of weather and time, coupled with get-the-job-done pressures that can bring stress, fatigue, and a weary sense of been there, done that routine.
Rekindling the Flame
As you may have guessed, all three of the works I recommend here provide a reinvigorating tonic for such weariness. They give voice to the art and the beauty airplanes provide. They remind us of the heart and the soul. They evoke the melody and the verse for music that quickens every Flyer’s heart, reminding us of the joy we find in the sky both as pilots of our own aircraft and as passengers privileged by the perspective that mechanical wings provide.
So as part of your winter back-to-aviation-basics activities, don’t forget to include the art along with the science. Get the books and the film. Curl up by the fire, savor them, and let them rekindle your love for both Aviation and Flying … because there truly is nothing in all the world quite like them. (FAA Safety Briefing – JanFeb2018)