I was a terrified frequent flyer. Business forced me to travel,but it wasn’t pleasant. My fears were so strong that, at one point, Iwent to my boss’ home on Saturday to cancel a trip with him, closingthe conversation with, “So, that’s it. Fire me, demote me, but Iain’t gettin’ on another airplane.”
“So,”you ask, “let me get this straight. This is a supposed to be a storyabout learning to fly, not refusing. What’s the point?”
The point is that for a large number of fearful fliers learning tofly 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 bestGA 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 isunderstanding. Long before my first flight training, I readeverything I could get my hands on about aeronautics, aviationmeteorology, and airline operations. I subscribed to the Air LinePilots Association magazine. I even wrote an article for ALPA, aboutthe fearful fliers in the back of their planes! Does our own pilotingdeserve less diligence? No!
Second, once past the barrier of starting training, theoverwhelming joy of flight eclipses all else. Sure, the first stallsaren’t fun. No, you won’t be as confident as your CFI that you areready to solo. Yes, you may have checkride jitters for every licenseor rating you earn. Yet none of that compares the the joy, thefreedom, the privilege of being able to play among the clouds. Powerin, instruments green, pull back on the yoke, and the earth goes away. You’re free.
Finally, having earned the privilege of solo flight, thatprivilege becomes a sacred trust. In return for the privilegesextended to the pilot, the pilot agrees to be held entirely accountable; to exercise his or her privileges responsibly; to besure “I’M SAFE” before each flight (noIllness, Medication,Stress,Alcohol,Fatigue, or doubtfulEquipment).
You’renot a fearful flier? So much the better. Are you still willing torespect the privileges you are about to earn, to the same degree? Totrain as diligently? To fly as responsibly? To celebrate yourexperience of flight as joyfully?
I’ll never command a B-2, or drop the hook on my F-14 for acarrier landing at night, or feel my 747-400 contact the runway aftera Category IIIb approach and landing. But I’ve trained, and I’veloved, and I’ve lived flight with the same intensity. And, by God’sgrace, I am part of that same community of men and women who valuethe sense of accomplishment and the ultimate accountability thatflight brings.
Moreover, through my training, I can better appreciate theknowledge and skill of of these more advanced pilots — while holdingmyself to the same standards for professionalism and attitude.
What about you? Ready to accept the same responsibility, in returnfor the privilege of flight? Great! Then, let’s go play among theclouds.