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That Spell On You

Few activities or professions in this world inspire such fervent passions in an individual as flying. Human beings, ever since we first observed a bird lazily wheeling in the sky above us, love everything about flight. It is a supernatural gift, to leave this terra firm-a. Birds and other flying creatures have the gift because it was bestowed upon them by their Creator. They neither think about, nor appreciate their gift. It is simply what they do.

For humans, flight is a product of both our intellect and creativity. Soon after man domesticated the fastest animal that he could sit astride of – the horse – he gave it wings and the dream of controlled flight was brought to life in Pegasus. After several millennia of dreaming and desire, man intellectually started to solve the mystery of flight. We’ve been able to unlock a few of its secrets of physics and then created the airplane which is closely patterned after the creature with millions of years of wind-tunnel testing – the bird. In the timeline of human history, the airplane and our ability to fly is that of only a few moments ago.

As a fledgling new pilot, you are now taking your place in our still somewhat recent vocation that has been the dream of every human being who ever looked up to the sky and thought to themselves, “I wish I could do that!” In spite of the fact that air travel is now taken for granted, you have undoubtedly experienced that look of envy and wonder in the faces of family and friends when they learn of your chosen activity or profession.

The difference between them and you? You have made the commitment to put dream into action. In life, two things are always rewarded: faith and effort. These two endeavors tend to be magnified when used in conjunction with each other. Whatever brought you to the sky, it is by no accident. Most pilots have the in-bred feeling that this what they were born to do. Sometimes your path is straight, sometimes it is meandering, but your desires have evolved into something beyond that of just a dream, and now here you are. Well done!

Those of us that have come before you are glad that you have begun the journey. You are beginning to take your first steps into a much larger world. We all hope that you will find flying to be everything you have hoped for, and more. In no other profession does the marriage of skill and visceral pleasure come together so beautifully as it does in flying. It is that little rush of satisfaction that you feel every time you leave the briefing room and walk out to your plane; or after the engine has caught and settled down to its idle purr and you can feel the plane to be truly alive; or the when the ground “falls” away from you after lift-off; or on the rollout of a “greaser” landing when your right-seater looks over at you with mock surprise and delight. You are a pilot. It never changes. It never leaves you.

What lies ahead are moments when you will be looking out your window at the gravity-defying magic of your wings, or at some towering cumulus canyon that you’re weaving your way through, or the simple beauty of the earth sliding by below you in the late afternoon sun, and you will know you are right where you belong. Perhaps you’ll feel it in the traffic pattern with three other airplanes, all practicing your touch and goes, and you will hear yourself and the others making their crosswind/downwind/base/final radio calls, and you will smile to yourself and think “this is home”.

You will be learning many things, both in the air and on the ground. Some things will come to you easily. Others will not. What is easy and difficult will be different for each of you. We are all tuned differently, with different natural abilities and aversions. Aviation is one of those great activities in which you will never stop learning – you can only practice it, never perfect it. There is always some new technique to discover in flying the world’s most stabilized ILS, or in mastering a crosswind landing in wet and gusty conditions, or in handling the airplane so smoothly that your passengers forget that they are in an enclosed metal tube moving at 70 knots or 500 knots. The most simple of maneuvers will still have lessons for you after 17,000 hours. It does for me.

In return for all the gifts that flight will give you, it demands only one thing in return – your respect. Drink in all there is to learn about this wonderful activity. Talk to those that have gone before you. Share what you have learned. Beware of complacency, for it can kill you (and your passengers) just as surely as windshear or an engine failure below single-engine maneuvering speed. Beware the pilot that is more interested in their image than their profession. They are an accident waiting to happen. Your knowledge and your attitude are your best assets in an environment that is very unforgiving of neglect, but blesses those who respect its ways.

So I say to you again – welcome. I am hoping that these words may help guide you on your path, for 30 years ago I was once right where you are now. We all learn by doing, and whatever pearls of wisdom I might bestow upon you now will soon be re-written through your own experience. Perhaps in 30 years you will have your own book of proverbs to pass on to the next generation. My hope is that you never lose that sense of wonder that is flight, and that you never lose your love of the sky, and the feeling of fellowship with the ones you share it with.

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