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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Circle of Life

One of the funniest aviation sites on Facebook is ATC Memes. Yesterday, they posted this picture and challenged their mountain of followers to caption it:

Via ATC Memes.
My caption:
Pilot of 172: "I wish I was in that 747 right now."
Pilot of 747: "I wish I was in that 172 right now."

The challenge, excitement, and fun of aviation is that there is always somewhere new to go, something new to learn, and something new to fly. That can be a bit of a problem, however, when you focus on what someone else is doing instead of enjoying what you are doing.

I'm one of the luckiest people on the planet because I actually enjoy what I do for a living. So many people drag themselves to work every day, count down the minutes to 5:00, and hate every minute in between. I get to do something useful and have fun doing it!

Sure, the hours are long sometimes, there are delays for any of a dozen reasons, and I spend more time away from home than I do at home, but it's been almost two years and I still have yet to have a day where I said, "Ugh. I don't want to go to work today."

After all, I get to fly the Dash-8, one of the most pilot-enjoyable airliners ever designed, into conditions I probably wouldn't get to see otherwise (I'd never shot an ILS approach to 100 feet until I became an airline pilot) to places I wouldn't have seen. I get to have the challenge of shooting an unusual approach, the LDA + glideslope into Runway 6 at Roanoke, or mixing it up in the crazy-busy airspace into Newark. There's still a new airplane for me to fly, as I'll be moving over to the ERJ-145 in July, too.

In other words, I love my flying life. But if you're a student pilot or someone in a 172 or a Cherokee or a Cub or any of a hundred different general aviation aircraft, I envy you.

I envy you. If you're a student pilot who hasn't soloed, you're probably wondering what you got yourself into. Studying a bunch of new, arcane material, hitting your own wake turbulence for the first time when you really nail a steep turn, having an occasional "Wow!" of a landing (in both good and bad ways as you find 50 different ways not to land an airplane), and wondering if you're ever going to get signed off is a time you'll never experience again in your life. Sometime soon, you'll have that first solo, and you'll get to experience for the first time that feeling that only a pilot gets to feel. It's not a feeling that anyone has managed to fully do justice to: you just have to join the club to know what that feeling is. Once you do, though, you'll never forget it. When you tell other pilots you just soloed, you'll get that congratulations and a nod: the nod being the silent pilot-to-pilot way of saying, "I know how happy you are, and you earned it." You're about to have that experience, and I envy you for it.

Recently, I was waiting to pick up our IFR clearance back to DC and had to wait for a Piper to finish getting their VFR clearance. Their plan was to head a few miles out, circle a prominent landmark a couple of times to do some sightseeing, head about 15 more miles away, do some maneuvers, and head back. What a fun day for them. I envied them for being able to do that.

Some of my best times flying were almost as free and unplanned. One I'll never forget was a fall flight from Lorain County to Ohio University to spend an hour checking out the autumn colors. Since Ohio U. isn't far by air from the Ohio River, we decided to continue on for a little bit and check out the river. That "little bit" ended up being another half an hour flying all the way up the rest of the river to Pittsburgh to see where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio! I wouldn't know it then, but that would end up being the last flight with my father before he passed away. I'm glad I had the chance to go on such a spontaneous excursion with him, because nowadays I'm glad if I get to divert 10 degrees off course to avoid a towering cumulus buildup before going back on course.

No matter what you're doing, enjoy it. If you're practicing maneuvers for your checkride, revel in the fact that you have a challenge to meet. After all, someday that tricky maneuver that you haven't quite perfected will become routine for you, and most people go their entire lives without ever stepping up to meet that challenge at all. If you're slogging through the weather on a tough approach, have fun with the 3-D mental puzzle you get to solve in realtime. After all, everyone without an instrument rating doesn't get to fly that day, but you do. If you're a Cub pilot with traffic on the freeway passing you a thousand feet below, just enjoy the freedom you have to be in the sky looking down on that traffic! There's someone in the flight levels on that clear blue day doing Mach .78 wishing they were doing 78 knots instead.

It never gets better than what you're doing right now.

See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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