I’m Not A Robot!


What is it about me that makes officials I’ve never met ask if I’m human? More intrusively, they don’t merely enquire if I identify as homo sapiens but, instead, demand that I prove that I’m not a cyber-blooded aero-other—a robot. I refer here to the demeaning process many suffer when attempting to achieve any level of internet self-actualization, a fool’s errand I realize. Specifically, I was recently challenged when ordering a case of oil filters for GiGi, my 7ECA Citabria, who is also not a robot and would be offended, knowing somebody asked. She’s Canadian by birth so would be outwardly polite about it.

GiGi is competent, reliable but incredibly fussy, unlike her considerably older cousin and hangar mate, Quinta, a septuagenarian Aeronca Champ, who still loves to splash in the mud after a thunderstorm or throttle back to glean lift from thermals and float alongside bald eagles that are surprisingly common here in Iowa. Surprising, that is, to pilots not from here. Easily misidentified as turkey vultures by those who’ve never soared with either, eagles—these tremendous birds of metaphor—are snobs, harboring little interest in aviation the way human aviators do. This because a higher authority gifted it to them. Their birthright of effortless flight dulled the eagle’s romantic appreciation for what we featherless commoners cherish. While we paste their images on rusty pickups and breathlessly track their lines of succession whenever one fledges from the royal nest, they, in turn, shrug off their entitlement, even though eagles could not exist without it, a twisted symbiosis they choose to ignore.

To fast-climbing human pilots, eagles are something noted on a bird strike form (FAA 5200-7) with sad reverence, if one possesses any soul. Not so much soul required for vulture strikes. They’re flying raccoons, buzzards to some, spiraling in Lufbery circles over highways, looking to engorge themselves on putrefying unfortunates below and treating flight as a technical means to ameliorate recurring need. Or as vultures admit, “We know we’re unpopular, but it’s our job to process others’ misfortune.” I believe that’s also the FAA’s Aeromedical Certification motto.

Eagles, by contrast, will occasionally feast off similar pickings when fresh salmon isn’t in season, but if you’ve ever flown formation with one—and shouldn’t, because that would be illegal under a talonful of wildlife protection rules—you can’t help but stare, gobsmacked at these stunning but, frankly, arrogant flyers. Arrogant the way silent movie stars were. “Look upon me. I’m beautiful, gifted, and no matter how hard you mimic, you’ll never be me.” Then the talkies hit like a Boeing Triple Seven nosecone and stymied that Norma Desmond pretense.

GiGi, the Citabria, suffers from eagle envy but won’t admit it. She’s statuesque. Honed from Calacatta marble, white with a red starburst that she would never willingly expose to a soggy runway, lest something unpleasant spritz her delicate nether regions. Soar with eagles? Hardly. That would mean sharing the spotlight with someone whose naturally white head and tail feathers might upstage her polyester own. Quinta, by contrast, is the neighbor’s puppy that’s always off lead and plants filthy paws on your Top Gun fantasy flight suit, because she’s so happy to see you—or anyone. Hard to believe they come from the same family.

I love them both. In winter, I love GiGi’s cabin heat. In summer when her 115 nominal horses struggle to lift two humans from a grass runway, blaming what she derides as “the myth of density altitude,” I then favor the Champ. Despite a considerably lower useful load and 50 fewer ponies, the old Aeronca has never understood what maximum gross weight truly implies, because she’s hauled tons of happy Iowa butts on warm days, while GiGi recovers in the shade from an attack of the vapors.

Still, GiGi, shiny with aileron spades to give that power-steering boost to insensitive pilots who fancy a quick roll in the clouds, does her best while quietly masking her limitations. She’s no Decathlon or Scout, all muscle and noise. Nor does she qualify to watch herself gavotte with the swelt LSA crowd Quinta frequents. Gigi knows her role, plays it well and bows gracefully after each performance. For that I make sure she remains cleaner than Quinta and receives fresh oil filters before asking, which is why I get so irked when some online retailer that wants my money demands that I first proclaim, “I am not a robot!” simply because, like many human pilots, I can’t remember my stinkin’ password.

To that blind checkout entity at the Aeroparts R Us Warehouse who challenged my being, I ask: Can a robot appreciate GiGi and Quinta sharing the sky with bald eagles? Methinks not. To bolster pilotdom’s collective humanity, I refer your conscience—if you possess one—to Shakespeare’s Merchant of E-commerce (Act 3 Scene 1): “Hath a pilot not eyes? If we repeatedly, and without enlightenment, bump our heads unto struts, do we not bleed? And sweareth?” Verily, I am human and wish to be treated as no less!

We pilots are flesh, blood and, with FAA Aeromedical Division blessing, can present a certificate, proving such. Online administrators, demanding I attest to no hint of familial robotic relationships, threaten the illusion that we humans are in charge. And to those who would impel our diminution by reprogramming the very intellectual processes that separate us from the cyber horde, mark well my pledge through the Bard’s own words: “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

Assuming I can figure out what that means and reset my password.

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  1. You may well not be a bot and are “flesh, blood and … ” Paul, but many of us here suspect you may actually be the OTHER Paul … operating under a pseudonym when you want to be ‘incognito?’

    Please punch “1” for Yes or, punch “2” for No after providing your Mother’s maiden name and entering a password. 🙂

  2. Paul….the “password or login you entered was incorrect” please try again or “click here” for reset…sorry bout the “bot” infestation…


  3. Many times I’ve shared a thermal with a vulture or even a Red-tailed hawk, but I have yet to share one with a Bald eagle. And the few times I’ve shared the sky with them, they offered little or no accommodation, so instead, I yielded. Are Bald eagles airborne snobs? I think so.

    However, what mostly caught my eye about Paul’s article is that he has two airplanes, and they both have names. How is that possible? Over the years, I’ve met so many pilots and airplane owners that had airplanes personalized by mostly affectionate names, but as much as I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to award a moniker to any of my winged companions. Instead, and no matter how much affection, kindly words, and wax I bestow upon them, they have always been known within my tiny group as the Taylorcraft, Cub, or Luscombe or perhaps even worse during an open display of foul mood. I think I’m jealous of the relationship Paul has with his airplanes.

    • ‘Don’t Fly Over an Eagle’s Nest’ is a book by a guy who lived in the Southern Gulf Islands north of Victoria BC and sometime worked in northern Vancouver Island, circa 1940s-50s.

      I don’t remember his eagle tale, but have read news reports of eagles attacking small airplanes. Of course they will defend their nest.

      And if you fly into the back country, watch for bears. Advice I read on bear scaring noisemakers is they may be afraid of your noise, or may attack if feeling threatened.

  4. I can only assume this incident occurred at 2am and your only outlet was to channel Shakespeare, Bax and the FAA.

    Not exactly sure what you said at the end, but damn, it was beautiful!

  5. Well, web weenies are not known for competence let alone business sense.

    reCaptcha is a POJ, even its coders can’t see what is in their own photos.

    Not comforting – my maxim is that security has to be simple to ensure function.
    Besides, what are they really trying to protect? In many cases they are overspeeding.

  6. I have flown in formation with a bald eagle (two actually, at the same time). Several years ago I was flying a sailplane in a thermal, and at one point I noticed that I had been joined by a full-grown bald eagle about 25 feet below me, traveling in the same counterclockwise direction that seemed appropriate at the time. The eagle was so close I could see the trailing edge feathers on his wings twitching to adjust his airfoil. Very cool! A couple of minutes later, I looked up and there was a second bald eagle perhaps 150 feet above me in the same thermal soaring in the same counterclockwise direction. Perhaps one of an aviation life’s defining moments. Here in NC we have enough bodies of water that eagles are not uncommon (they seem to prefer fish as a diet, but I have seen one swoop down and grab a full-grown rabbit, without even slowing down).

    • Critters have food preferences but will eat to survive. Several years ago eagles were showing up at the garbage dump south of Vancouver BC to eat seagulls, because their normal food source at a particular time was low that year. (They flew roughly 50 miles from a mountain+lake area up the Fraser Valley to the garbage dump, which is near ocean water.)

      The gulls were a hazard to airplanes at YVR as they tended to nest at Point Gray and the airport was between the two areas.
      One day a Pacific Western 707 hit a flock on initial climb out of YVR. Crew shut down one engine – it looked pitiful, other on that side was not much better. I joked we should just tape a cheque for a third of a million dollars onto it and send it straight to the overhaul shop. (FOD will cause surging, bits of blades/vanes will get blown forward then come back to nick fan blades.)

    • I was on my glider instructor checkride. While demonstrating stalls and steep turns, I found a good thermal and banked into it–LIFT! We were soon joined by a hawk, who circled in the same thermal. The examiner asked rhetorically–“Wonder what HE’S DOING UP HERE!

      I was sure I was going to pass the checkride, and answered “He’s taking notes!” The examiner, in the front seat, just shook his head–but I passed the checkride–and the examiner told that story to several people afterward!

      Paul(s)–I agree with other readers–you two are a great pair–but increasingly, I believe you are one and the same! There are few writers that can combine the flight of raptors, anthropomorphic aircraft, and Shakespeare in the same article. You (BOTH of you!) ARE THE PRESENT-DAY GORDON BAXTER!

  7. At age 80, I’m always happy to learn a new word. Now if I can just remember what “gavotte” means. Must use it in a sentence…

    I’m too old to gavotte.

  8. Just call the 800 number. Then you can get the ol’, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available representative. Your call is so important to us that you have an approximate wait time of 25 minutes before we will answer so you can give us money. Although we might hang up on you in 24 minutes. So please stay on the line for a representative who can’t answer product questions but who can read the exact same description on the exact same product web page you already have up. Your call is very important to us”.

  9. You may not be a robot, but by clicking on the boxes you are, unpaid, doing the rote work needed for image recognition programs for driverless cars.

  10. Thank you Paul for anthropomorphizing airplanes. You long ago inspired to regard them as human. Mine definitely knows I’m human. Please don’t ask me how I know that.