So… You’re a Pilot, Eh?

by Stu Simpson

There I was…(dontcha’ just love flying stories that start this way)…not at thirty thousand feet in an F-14, not at Mach 1 in a CF-18, not even at 60mph in a Beaver Rx-35. No, I was walking on a warm spring evening eating an ice cream bar. I know it may sound boring to you, but those ice cream bars are darned tasty.

Anyway, I was thinking about flying, and airplanes, and pilots. I began to wonder what makes a pilot tick, and furthermore, what makes him want to fly? I bet psychiatrists (and pilot’s wives) have been asking the same questions for years.

I think the big attraction to flying is the romance of aviation. Since the early 1900’s, after people realized flyers weren’t just jelly-brained daredevils, pilots have been thought of as people with special talents and guts of iron (and who are we to argue? Right?).

The image of the biplane pilot, as he struts jauntily to his machine, has thrilled people for years. We’ve all had fantasies of duelling in mortal combat with Fokkers, Messerschmits, and MiG‘s, of having stick and rudder at one’s hands and feet, of being able to spew red-hot rapid-fire death at the touch of a button, of lusty lasses and bawdy nights spent recounting tales of aerial daring while quaffing copious amounts of root beer…

Such thoughts are enough to send any red-blooded young (and not so young) man scurrying to the local flying field in search of lessons.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s have a show of hands to indicate who thinks they could have replaced Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’? Let’s see now, one, two, three,…uh-huh. Just as I thought. All of you.

A U.S. Navy study tells of a number of traits common to pilots, one such trait being self-confidence.

If a pilot is not confident in his abilities, he simply will not fly well. Every aviator, from the 747 captain to the dirt strip ultralight jockey, has to believe 100% that no matter what happens, he can fly his plane well and bring it back to earth safely. Chances are, he thinks he can do it better than anyone else. Some people call it ‘The Right Stuff‘.

Time for another show of hands. How many of you out there think you could land an airliner if the pilots got sick and croaked?

Notice how you all put your hands up? Again. No confidence problems here.

I mean, don’t you just hate that lousy rule that says each pilot on an airliner has to eat a different meal than the other, in case one gets food poisoning? I do. I’d love a shot at trying to land one of those mothers. Hey, if things get a little rough…well, that’s what those pre-flight crash briefings are for anyway. I live for the day when an ashen faced stewardess walks from the cockpit and asks, “Is anyone on board a pilot?”

Back to the U.S. Navy study. The researchers found other traits common to pilots. Firstly, they love to fly (Big surprise there, eh?). For many aviators, flying becomes central to their very existence, sometimes meaning more to them than family and friends.

Pilots are also rather direct people who like to be in control of things. Translated: We always insist on pushing the grocery cart at the Safeway store. Pilots are usually very honest people (except for a few disreputable reprobate business types), especially with themselves. They are constantly evaluating and trying to perfect their technique. At least the good ones are.

What are some other good things about being a pilot? Let’s see. Well, we get to wear really neat clothes, like leather flying jackets, and flight suits with wings and patches on them, and all those zippers and pockets (and we never forget what’s in those pockets. Right?) Pilots also get to wear ‘flight helmets’. Even if it’s really a motorcycle helmet, once you wear it flying, it becomes a ‘flight helmet‘. And why not? I mean, when I hear the term ‘flight helmet’ it sounds so macho that I could just bend lead pipe, or something.

I think one of the main reasons guys start flying is so they can wear aviator shades. I mean, just go to any airport and see how many guys are wearing those wimpy Wayfarers or Vuarnets (I don’t even know how to pronounce that word). Not many I’ll bet. Here’s a line to justify to your wife why you need to spend nearly one hundred dollars on a pair of Ray-Bans. “Well, you wouldn’t want me to crash, would you, Honey?” Just watch her whip out the Visa card (either that, or she’ll stand there and laugh her head off, like my wife did).

But what really keeps a pilot flying? Is it the thrills, the freedom, the leather jacket? I don’t know. I suppose the reasons are different for every pilot. I think one trait that didn’t show up in the aforementioned study is that pilots are dreamers. Dreamers who have the courage to follow their dreams.

I think ultimately, flying is its own reward. The egotism, the hangar flying, the leather jackets, and the dreams are all just bonuses for someone who flies.

One last thought: Ever notice how the view from a tall building, or a big hill doesn’t seem to mean as much now that you, as a pilot, have been higher?