Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Existential Question

Photo: Paul King Mansfield
A very savvy young lady named Toria flies and works in the aviation industry in Maryland, and maintains an excellent blog called Toriaflies. Recently thereon, she posed what is (to me, at least) an existential question: "Why do you fly?" She offered some answers she'd gotten from friends, as well as her own, and solicited responses from her readers.

The question got me to thinking about, first, why do I fly? And second, why do all of us fly? At first, specious answers suggested themselves:

  • "It's fun!"
  • "Flying is so convenient."
  • "Because I can!"

But none of the easy answers really captured the motivation that leads me to engage in a costly activity with (let's face it) heightened risk, on a regular basis. In the end, this is the response I gave to Toria's question:

Why do I fly?

I fly because in flying there is no pretense, no prevarication, no dishonesty. The airplane doesn't know your family name or your pedigree. It can't read your resumé or check your references. It cares not about the color of your skin, or your gender, or where, if anywhere, you bow before your god.

The airplane only cares that your hand and your mind and your heart can become one with it when, together, you have to deal with the fierce crosswind, or the frontal weather, or the icy threats of winter.

The airplane looks back at you and says, "Do or do not. There is no 'try'." But when you give the airplane what it needs from you, it returns a satisfaction that is rare in our world. And that is a priceless gift.

But that's just me. Other pilots certainly respond most powerfully to other satisfactions. Some relish the freedom of flying a J-3 Cub from a rural grass strip and cruising, low and slow, over the countryside. Others may crave the adrenalin rush that comes with taking a fully aerobatic Yak-52 to the edge of its performance envelope for an air show crowd. The warbird owner may sacrifice many things for the feeling that when he keeps his 65 year old T-6 flying he is in touch with, and part of, the amazing tradition of aviation in America.

I'm pretty certain that there are almost as many reasons to fly as there are aviators. And that's a wonderful thing because it preserves the variety and vitality of aviation.

So, my flying friends, think it over for a few minutes. Of all of the reasons to fly, all of the rewards to be had, which one speaks most clearly to you? And when you have it figured out, go on over to Toria's blog and leave your answer to her question.


Toriafly said...

I love the reason you fly, thanks for sharing :) I can't wait to hear more from other pilots as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Eck! said...

I'd have to echo that and add.. my simple explanation.

When I'm up there it's is about flying,and down there is another place, its things are separate. I don't worry the worlds worries, the bills, a project due tomorrow or overdue, I can concentrate on freedom and the precision of flying, completely. When I do it right nothing can take that moment from me. To fly well you have to be there heart and soul with the airplane not behind it.


Karlene Petitt said...

I absolutely love this. The reasons you fly are all those that make the perfect relationship--- Unconditional love, trust, respect, with total honesty. The essence of being. It's a very Zen sort of relationship. No wonder when we fall in love with flying, it's for life.
Beautifully written!

Frank Van Haste said...

Thanks for the kind words, Karlene. It took me a few hundred hours to begin to see that the old, hackneyed phrase, "becoming one with the airplane," is not just a cliche. It's an embodiment of an intimate relationship.

Keep safe,


Karlene Petitt said...

So true! Be one with the plane. And... see what we're doing now. http://tinyurl.com/4tnhn8w You're honored. Thank you!