How I Learned to Fly: A Fear of Flying

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A fear of flying led one businessman to conquer his phobia with knowledge, understanding, and respect.

TrainingI was a terrified frequent flyer. Business forced me to travel, but it wasn't pleasant. My fears were so strong that, at one point, I went to my boss' home on Saturday to cancel a trip with him, closing the conversation with, "So, that's it. Fire me, demote me, but I ain't gettin' on another airplane."

Left seat"So," you ask, "let me get this straight. This is a supposed to be a story about learning to fly, not refusing. What's the point?"

The point is that for a large number of fearful fliers learning to fly is a perfect antidote for what ails them. But more important, I'll wager that if those who choose to learn become some of the best GA pilots in the air. Yes, I mean pilots — not airplane drivers.

Why? First, their incredible need to know, need to understand, makes them ongoing students. Part of overcoming fear is understanding. Long before my first flight training, I read everything I could get my hands on about aeronautics, aviation meteorology, and airline operations. I subscribed to the Air Line Pilots Association magazine. I even wrote an article for ALPA, about the fearful fliers in the back of their planes! Does our own piloting deserve less diligence? No!

Second, once past the barrier of starting training, the overwhelming joy of flight eclipses all else. Sure, the first stalls aren't fun. No, you won't be as confident as your CFI that you are ready to solo. Yes, you may have checkride jitters for every license or rating you earn. Yet none of that compares the the joy, the freedom, the privilege of being able to play among the clouds. Power in, instruments green, pull back on the yoke, and the earth goes away. You're free.

Finally, having earned the privilege of solo flight, that privilege becomes a sacred trust. In return for the privileges extended to the pilot, the pilot agrees to be held entirely accountable; to exercise his or her privileges responsibly; to be sure "I'M SAFE" before each flight (no Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, or doubtful Equipment).

TwinYou're not a fearful flier? So much the better. Are you still willing to respect the privileges you are about to earn, to the same degree? To train as diligently? To fly as responsibly? To celebrate your experience of flight as joyfully?

I'll never command a B-2, or drop the hook on my F-14 for a carrier landing at night, or feel my 747-400 contact the runway after a Category IIIb approach and landing. But I've trained, and I've loved, and I've lived flight with the same intensity. And, by God's grace, I am part of that same community of men and women who value the sense of accomplishment and the ultimate accountability that flight brings.

Moreover, through my training, I can better appreciate the knowledge and skill of of these more advanced pilots — while holding myself to the same standards for professionalism and attitude.

What about you? Ready to accept the same responsibility, in return for the privilege of flight? Great! Then, let's go play among the clouds.