While adorable in the cradle, three aviation phrases have decayed into Hallmark substitutes for thought. First: “Any landing you can walk away from….” You know the rest and that it’s nonsense. Merely surviving an arrival that leaves the FBO’s 172 a crumpled monument to incompetence does not make for a good landing.
Another trope: Non-skydivers—and I’m in that timid clutch—who ask why jumpers choose to exit a “perfectly good airplane” in flight are asking the wrong people. Jumpers jump because they like to jump, I suppose, otherwise it’s just a long ride up, only to ride back down. Scant reward, especially while sitting on the floor, dressed like a Ninja. Nothing against Ninjas. Some of my best friends are … actually, none are Ninjas. That said, if the tail rips off my Citabria after a not-ready-for-Oshkosh snap roll, then I’d consider skydiving. Assuming I could borrow a parachute on short notice.
Antepenultimate on my list of aeroclichés is, “I’d Rather Be Flying.” Not to be confused with David Bowie’s, “I’d Rather Be High,” which includes a lyrical embrace of the rather be flying theme that’s possibly unsuitable under 91.17. Still, a catchy tune.
This phrase about a woebegone pilot who’s rathering to be aloft, may have its inception in Frank Kingston Smith’s 1962 book of the same name. I can’t say, but Smith establishes a start date and obligates us to maintain the phrase on life support without questioning its meaning. For perspective let’s consider Larry David if David took up flying—Heaven forfend. Talk about the worst possible student. Imagine the instructor/student exchange on climb-out in a Skyhawk:
“Larry, add right rudder!”
“I’ve told you, to overcome left-turning-tendencies….”
“They should just make the propeller turn the other way.”
“Some do, David….”
“…but not this one, so add….”
“Ted Danson probably has one of those. I want the Ted Danson propeller.”
“Just fly this one and add right rudder … please, Larry!”
(Releasing the controls) “Let me ask you something. Do you like instructing? Because I gotta say, you seem … ahhhh little tense.”
Imaginary celebrity students notwithstanding, I love flight instructing, although, loss of my medical certificate trimmed that pleasure three years ago. Apparently, the FAA thinks instructors need strong hearts to repeat, “Rudder,” thirty times per hour. And not always right rudder. In tailwheel instruction, “Rudder” means, “Foot,” whichever is appropriate when S-turning between runway lights. But back to scraping the patina from “I’d Rather Be Flying.”
Who in aviation wouldn’t rather be flying? Other than the FAA, which as GA’s nemesis would be happier if no one flew. Whenever I spot a license plate frame stating the driver’s alternate-being fantasies, I shout at the windshield, “Go fly, if that’s what you’d rather be doing!” Then, wiping the spittle from the glass, I mutter, “Instead of sitting in line for Arby’s drive-up and depressing me because I followed you, thinking you were headed to an airport, where inside a hangar that’s worth more than my house, you’d have a Ryan PT-22 that you’d let me fly, but instead, you sold that airplane, gave up flying since you were never really into it the way we who don’t fit into polite society are, and you forgot the desirous plate frame your ex-husband had presented after your first solo and prior to leaving you for ‘Heather,’ the Silver Sneakers yoga instructor, and that plate frame tells everyone sucking in your exhaust fumes that you’re dissatisfied with life and would rather be doing something completely unrelated to whatever you’re now doing … with curly fries!”
Inspirational quotes are life’s wallpaper. When I was an air traffic controller, the FAA spent too much on motivational posters that inspired no one. Example: “The road to flight,” helicopter visionary, Leonardo daVinci, once said, “is clogged with good intentions.” He only said it once, because even though true, it wouldn’t fit around 16th century license plates, which were smaller than today’s. Still, so impressed were Italian aviators they named Italy’s largest airport after him: Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport (ICAO: LIRF). Or Rome Airport to Uber drivers who speak neither English nor Italian.
I love Italy and vowed to return there to fly after I’d experienced a vision while on a pilgrimage to the hill city, Viterbo, about 100 km from LIRF. Despite that draw, I hate being a tourist ogling the same things visitors have ogled for 3000 years from the same angle, mostly looking up. “Wow, is that the Parthenon or Pantheon? Can we go to Arby’s now?” We pilots are meant to look down on others. And no, that didn’t come out wrong. Civilization—ancient or modern—is better when viewed from on high.
After climbing 39 steps to the battlement of yet another medieval fortress/gift shop, we paused as Fredo, our guide, waved at the splendor of a Tuscan sunset over the nearby Best Western Hotel. Viterbo was a favorite of vacationing popes who could look down on the masses skipping Mass. But I looked up when I heard the bark of a Continental 65-HP engine bouncing off the stone walls, disguising its location. My fellow touristi were oblivious as they listened to Fredo prattle about Inquisitions and Visigoths, while I searched skyward until the apparition materialized: an Aeronca Champ nonchalantly floating above the vineyards as only Italian aviators can … Bellesima!
I was elated at the sight but quickly descended into the darkness of envy and sighed, “I’d rather be flying….”
No other phrase could express my desire to one day return to Italy, and with Dean Martin’s Ritorna Me wafting between my ears, pay thousands of whatever silly currency is in vogue to fly a Champ and gaze at unwashed tourists who will never know why I fly or might, one day, consider intentionally jumping from an airplane, perfectly good or otherwise. Just not today.
A final confession: In 1975 I co-produced a video about flying in Hawaii, targeting Midwestern tourists stuck in Waikiki hotels during rainy season. Don’t search YouTube, the tapes were euthanized decades ago. Naming the program demanded scholarly reflection, so to capture the glory of island flight we gently plagiarized my license plate frame and called it (blush), I’d Rather Be Flying. Corny, but I still fly because there’s little I’d rather do.