Remembering why we fly.
“I’ve owned 41 airplanes. A few of them would talk with me. This little seaplane, though, we’ve had long conversations in flight. There’s a spirit in anything, I think, into which we weave our soul. Not many pilots talk about it, but they think about it in the quiet dark of a night flight.”
Why do you fly? I am asking a serious question. What was the reason after you took your first flight that you decided you needed to keep flying?
Flying isn’t an inexpensive hobby, like Frisbee throwing or collecting pencils. It isn’t something you can put in a drawer for 10 years and ignore while the rest of your life trundles on its merry way. At some point in your life you told yourself that flying was something you really wanted to do, and at that point your life changed forever.
Think back and try to remember that moment.
My decision point came when I was 12 years old and was on my red three-speed Schwinn bike. The realization that I wanted to spend my life flying occurred to me as I turned my bike onto my street after a long and hot ride back from the airport in Lakeland, Fla.
This wasn’t my first round-trip six-mile bike ride up and down Drane Field Road. I had been doing it every weekend for quite a few months. This day was different because I had finally gotten a free airplane ride. It was short and hot and was in an Ercoupe.
I was biking home on that humid day and right when I leaned into the turn to Polk Avenue, I spotted three people standing on the sidewalk. Then this thought hit my brain: “Those people didn’t get to go flying today.Their lives must be awful.”
From that point on, I never understood how some people could live their lives without going flying—without even thinking about going flying.
Can you imagine that? Some people don’t even like flying. Some people hate the idea of flying! What kind of life is that?
I have learned how to live in a world that contains non-flying people. Some of them are my friends. Some of them are family members. Living with non-flying people does not mean that I in any way understand them. How can you be truly happy in this world when you know flying exists and you aren’t doing it?
Some of you may have been flying for so long that you have forgotten the thrill you had when you decided that you had to fly. You may look on your plane as something that can get you somewhere at a great amount of speed. You might think of it as a business tool that saves you time and money. Flying might have reduced itself in your life to punching buttons on your flight management system and complaining that you don’t get enough days off from your piloting job.
This can happen with any endeavor, no matter how wonderful. I know that it has happened to me from time to time. For example, back when I was flying Boeing 777s for a large airline, this thought actually crossed my brain one day: “Oh, crap. I have to fly to Paris again?”
This disconnect from the love of flying can be a way to cope when spending time with non-flying people. Who of us hasn’t been at a party and gotten asked by a non-flying acquaintance, “Flying is expensive, right?”
Your stock answer was most likely something to do with how much money your airplane makes you, or saves you. You were attempting to use concrete terms to explain something that is too awesome for words.
I suggest that we stop trying to explain the inexplicable to people who think that flying is something uncomfortable that they have to do in order to visit Aunt Thelma in Shreveport.
Maybe a better answer to the flying question should go something like this: “I fly because I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Or, we could quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.” I’d leave it at that, and then gently change the subject to something that party-goers commonly talk about—like taxes, losing weight, or football.
Meanwhile, in your own mind, you can remember how that golden sunset looked that evening when it was calm and quiet and comfy while you were flying your plane. You can remember the feeling as you sit in your cockpit after a flight and listen to the tic-tic-tic of your engine cooling down and the slowing whirr of your instruments winding to a stop.
I am not sure you can express to your party friend in words that the reason you have made flying such a big part of your life is because you love it.
We love almost everything about it. I am not saying that we love checkrides or memorizing FARs or dealing with the FAA. That stuff is clerical debris, and it is the price we have to pay to do what we hold dear.
I certainly don’t begrudge you the fact that your airplane can save you time, nor do I want to diminish the pride you might have from memorizing all of those FARs. I just hope that from time to time—maybe as you metaphorically ride your bicycle home from the airport—you consider that the true reason you spend all of your time and treasure on flying is because you simply love it.
Kevin Garrison’s aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla., and he retired as a 767 captain in 2006. Currently Garrison is a DC-9 simulator instructor and a 767 pilot instructor. Send questions or comments to .