Thursday, March 12, 2009

Love of Flying

I love flying airplanes. I like everything about it, but it's the whole package that skyrockets it into love.

I'm not a machinery enthusiast, really. I trace the paths of the squirrels and marbles to laugh at Rube Goldberg contraptions. I'm impressed by machinery that does a complex job utilizing simple machines like winches and levers, wheels, cogs and screws. I like to know where the escalator goes when it gets to the bottom and why the handrails don't quite keep up to the stairs. When I was a kid I liked taking apart my toy dump truck with the toy wrench and screwdriver, and spent hours playing with those sandbox diggers with the cables and levers, but then I also spent hours crocheting hideous dolls' clothes. (Both the dolls and the clothes were hideous, if you're curious about the ambiguity there).

I have no huge affection for internal combustion engines. I acknowledge the cleverness and usefulness of the invention, and I certainly appreciate the way the parts of my engines keep on moving, hour after hour while I fly over Texas, but there's nothing else with an internal combustion engine that I appreciate as anything more than a tool. For example I would rather walk than take a car for the same amount of time, and in many cases I'd rather ride a bike than drive a car for the same distance.

I like computers. The idea of being able to parlay yes/no circuits into higher and higher commands and subroutines is interesting and disciplining. The way a computer mimics real intelligence offers insights into real intelligence. There are lots of computer applications that impress me. Usually that's not so much for the scale of how many computations they do, because I've grown up with computers and compute is what they do. I'm more impressed that someone realized that this thing that no one has done before is actually possible to do, because a computer can make that many computations and just make this work.

All of these things are part of what happens in flying an airplane, but being in command of an airplane is just something else. You put all this together and have it work for you. It's a little bit like having a well-trained dog or a horse respond to your commands, making you fiercer, more sensitive and far far faster than you are without its help. It's a little bit like being able to fly yourself. And then you feel the responsibility to get it where you are going.

I love navigation systems. Things as simple as an A-N beacon and things as simultaneously simple and complex as GNSS. I've always loved maps, especially the old ones that revealed through their crazy guesses that maps are just what we think is out there, and not necessarily what is there.

I love interpreting weather. I wrote a novel once (one of those write as fast as you can and who cares if it's any good efforts) and my friends laughed at the fact that my descriptions of the weather in each chapter could not have been written by anyone but a pilot. I couldn't write about a cloud without describing how it got there, nor have the weather in successive chapters not make sense from the point of view of frontal passage.

It doesn't matter how frustrating the customers have been, how bad the hotel, how unpalatable the food, how cold or hot it is or how cranky the ground controller was. At some point in the day I get to line up with a runway, push those throttles forward and fly! Every time the mains come off, even though I'm thinking about blue line and how far it is to the fence, and whether that Cessna pilot on the crossing runway understands what "position and hold" means, and keeping the wings level as the gear comes up, even if the gear doors cause some yaw ... every time the mains come off I also think "wheee!" I'm flying.


Anonymous said...

Your love of flying always shines through, much to all our benefit.

Years ago I read a book on flying by pilot/author Frank Kingston Smith (the father). It's so long ago I don't remember anything about the book except for the fact he made clear that every time he took off, no matter how many times he flew, he always had that "Whee, here we go again!" feeling. Flying is amazing. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Bob in Minnesota

Anonymous said...

Was that novel a NaNoWriMo project per chance?

sequ said...

Well said!!!

I love the fact i can ¨jiggle¨ in my seat and the airplane doesn´t fall!!!

Never ceases to amaze me!

Take care,


YDAR said...

Oh, yeah - I wish I could take one up myself, but I'll just have to settle for the occasional test flight and the shivery thrill of feeling the pressure in the seat of your pants after rotation, when the wheels are all off the ground. There's nothing makes me feel happier.

Anonymous said...

Yes. To all of this!

(well, barring the novel part, I haven't written one of those yet. The weather comments sound right, though!)

Critical Alpha said...

I had a Chief Flying Instructor once - an otherwise staid and sensible man, ex airline pilot, pillar of the community...and sometimes he would not only think "wheeee!!" but actually say "wheeee!!" whether it was on take off or during a wing over or steep turn.

He still had a child - like love of flight itself. Wonderful.


Anonymous said...

Awesome. There are so many folks who do nothing but complain about their life/job/boss/paycheck all the time, and these folks are a true reason for quitting not only a company but a job, so it's very good to get a reminder that does the exact opposite of this.

Julien said...

Thanks Aviatrix for putting words on feelings that so many of us experience each time we go flying.

The magical moment for me is lining up, especially the final turn that ends with the aircraft facing the numbers. Just magical. The very long runway ahead feels like a promise of all sorts of flying pleasures to come. And you can hear that little voice that says "take-off is optional, landing is mandatory".

Anonymous said...

The line up and take off portion still rattles me a bit as my brain passes thru "holy crow, you're actually flying this thing" to "and it's now up to you to keep it flying all the way till she's done!". All that excitement is too stressful for me to love just yet. Where I find my nirvana is somewhere moments after crossing the fence. Seeing the rush of the runway, checking the descent and hearing the siren song of the stall warning horn just before the wheels touch the earth again. I still whoop and holler during the roll out, passengers or not. I haven't asked yet if it worries them.....

Lord Hutton said...

I think you should get some counselling to see if you can find a job you could enjoy;-)

Greybeard said...

Lift the collective and come to a hover. Fly while remaining motionless...

Scott Johnson said...

You'd appreciate this. I was driving past a small grass airstrip near my home and saw that a Cessna 150 was about to depart. I pulled over and grabbed the camera. I got a picture that isn't technically perfect, but it captured a moment that when I saw it later, got me kind of ... emotional! Maybe only pilots understand.

Anonymous said...

Well said. We're all so fortunate to live in a time when flight is possible for mere humans.

I think I've said it before, but I find flying totally addicting. The more I do, the more I crave. If its more than a week between flights I get twitchy. Just the smell of spilled avgas & oil on my gloves brings me back instantly and makes me smile in spite of the aromatic hydrocarbon tang. Even better, the complex smells of doped fabric, old varnish & wood gives me an intense emotional recollection of happy summer days aloft.

If da Vinci didn't say it, and there's some doubt, he should have, truer words never spoken:

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.


Julien said...

@scott johnson: thanks for sharing, beautiful photograph.

A couple of years ago I was visiting a control tower with a group of student pilots. There was a very lively discussion going on between us and the controllers.

What was amazing though was the perfectly synchronized ten seconds of silence that would fall on our group each time a plane would take off or land.

There seems to be a switch in the brain of aviation people that goes into 'plane awe' mode each time an aircraft comes within a few hundred feet of the runway.

chris said...

I'm with viennatech. For me, the most glorious part of flying comes in the last ten vertical feet before touchdown. I'm struggling to think of anything more satisfying than a long, controlled, lingering flare, reaching for that perfect touchdown. And the stronger the crosswind, the more intense the pleasure. My most memorable flying moments are repetitions of the same situation: landing an empty C182 on a narrow dirt airstrip at a drop zone with a stiff crosswind. The decade-old memories of those cross-controlled pleasures will be with me forever. (I once did a BFR with an instructor who absolutely hated my long flares--he preferred to fly the airplane straightaway onto the runway--but I would not be deterred from the most joyous part of flying.)

Aviatrix said...

Landing is a technical part of the flight that is important to get right, but the best part of the flight?! A brick can land. Okay a brick can fly, too, if it has enough thrust, but going from air to land has no magic. I wouldn't miss it if there were a fast-forward switch from short final to runway exit.

Once I have brought the airplane to the threshold, right height, right speed, I'll give away the landing and not miss it.

chris said...

A brick can land.

Perhaps, but not gracefully.

Once trimmed, an airframe will fly itself until the fuel is gone. If there's any joy in watching a trimmed airframe fly from A to B, it eludes me. I'm sure many folks find pleasure in navigation or other enroute tasks; I do not.

Despite the finest trim, airframes do not finesse themselves onto the ground. Some autopilots can do that, but, like bricks, without grace. The greatest joy, for me, is in finding that grace.

I wouldn't miss it if there were a fast-forward switch from short final to runway exit.

I should be your F/O (required crew or not). You could log all the hours that bore me, then over the numbers I'd take over and log the landing. It'd be a match made in heaven. :-)

Scott Johnson said...

I've seen a space shuttle landing. Yes, a brick can land. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a sunday pilot but I just feel like you do, Aviatrix.

Every time I take off. Even before take-off. The pre-flight checks, sitting-down into the aircraft, bringing it back to life...

Every time I land I only want one thing: take-off again!