Note to Self: Not Everyone Flies

I have to keep reminding myself because I do forget.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down with the September 2009 issue of Flight Training magazine (because “a good pilot is always learning”), prepared to page through the mostly airplane-specific content for a few good tidbits that also applied to flying helicopters. I started with the “President’s Perspective” by new AOPA president Craig Fuller.

The fourth paragraph nearly knocked me off my seat:

Over the Independence Day holiday, I urged everyone to celebrate their freedom to fly by getting out and into the air, whether for a family vacation or a quick sightseeing expedition. I also urged certificated pilots to take a nonpilot for a ride to let them experience a new perspective on general aviation. There’s no better way to make sure that GA remains relevant and vibrant than to get out in the sky and do it! Taking nonfliers along for the ride can introduce them to a new world, and might even be the key to bringing the next generation of pilots into the cockpit.

I added the emphasis here; these are the phrases that woke me up from my afternoon burn out.

These phrases reminded me that as a pilot, I’m a member of a tiny community of folks who can just get out and fly. Very few people are as fortunate as we pilots are in this respect.

It’s a Natural Part of My Life

Oddly, flying has become such a part of my life that I don’t think twice about doing it. Here’s a good example from this week.

I need to reposition my “redneck truck” to Grand Canyon Airport (GCN) before next Thursday. The truck is one of the few vehicles I own that can seat three people comfortably. Ground transportation from GCN into the park sucks — the shuttle service is inconsistent and a huge time suck and there are no rental cars (what’s that about?) — and I’ll be there by helicopter at least three times within the next three months with at least two passengers each time. I need to get my people into the park quickly and comfortably — they’re not paying all that money to sit around waiting for a shuttle van. Since I can’t rent a car and I happen to have a spare truck, I figured I’d just put my own transportation there for the season.

I have to drive the truck up there. No getting around that. It’s a 2-1/2 to 3 hour drive. But I didn’t even think about getting someone to drive me back. Instead, I figured I’d ask a friend to fly up and fetch me in return for a fuel top-off. I sent out an e-mail to a friend with a Mooney who is always looking for an excuse to fly, we picked a date and time, and we’re good to go. If he didn’t want to do it, I could think of at least four other people — including my husband, who is half-owner in a Grumman Tiger — who might do it. The idea of driving back never even entered my mind.

Until I read Fuller’s comments and realized that just about everyone else in the world would plan to drive back. The idea of flying back would never even enter their minds.

What It Means to Me

It’s hard to explain to a nonflier what flying means to me. Part of that is because I can no longer imagine things from their perspectives — not being able to just get out and fly. But the other part is their sheer lack of understanding of what it’s like to be airborne. Yes, I know what my town, a good portion of Arizona, and lots of the western states look like from 500 or 1000 feet above the ground. I know how the air will behave as I cross over a dark green alfalfa field on a sunny day or slip into the shade of a cumulous cloud just starting to get heavy with precipitation. I know what it’s like to fly over or past or under a large bird, to cross over the top of an airport with a plane just touching down on the runway beneath me, to slip 1,500 feet below a 747 landing at Sky Harbor Airport (PHX). I know what it’s like to fly up a twisting canyon, level with the tops of the canyon walls, and how it feels to zip low over the surface of a lake or desert plain. I know the feel of the aircraft around me, responding to inputs that my hands and feet automatically feed into it at the whim of my brain — to be one with a vehicle that can move freely in three dimensions, against the pull of gravity.

North to the Future

When I started up my laptop to write this, this is the photo that popped up as my random desktop picture. The world is wide open to a pilot.

I’m not the only one around here who can say all of these things. Once I learned to fly and began spending more and more time at airports, it was only natural to meet and become friends with other pilots. Whether they’re helicopter pilots like me, owners of well kept classic airplanes like my friend’s Mooney, or tinkerers who built their aircraft with their own two hands, they’ve all tasted and perhaps feasted on the freedom of flight. From the guys who put fat tires on their taildraggers so they can land in dry riverbeds to the folks flying big twins and small jets to places like Washington, Idaho, or Colorado, they’re all the same. They’re pilots.

Get on Out There and Fly!

It’s strange that I can no longer see the other person’s point of view — strange because of the number of nonfliers I take flying routinely for my flying business. Perhaps that’s because I fly helicopters. I take it for granted that most people don’t fly in helicopters. But the reality is that most people don’t fly in small aircraft at all.

So here’s my request to all the readers of this post:

If you’re a pilot, take someone who’s never been in a small aircraft flying with you sometime between now and the end of the year. Let them experience the wonder of flight; give them the “new perspective” Craig Fuller wrote about.
If you’re not a pilot, grab a friend and go flying. Take a flight at your local airport or the next time you have a chance to take a tour where aerial tours are offered. Do it before the end of the year.

And then think about it — from all perspectives — and feel fortunate that such an activity is within your grasp.

What do you think?