The sight of the aircraft dripping wet at the end of a flight was, as I walked away from the airframe that carried us home, through the storm clouds is a beautiful one. Before this picture was taken we, my co-captain and myself, searched through the murk until we broke clear of the clouds and arrived unscathed in our Lear 35. As the Aussies always said “No worries”, but I can tell you this flight had at its beginning, like many before, unknowns, as most flight do, but meeting the challenges of the unknowns is what the journey is about.
It is often said it’s not the destination but it is the journey that is important. In aviation it’s both. However I too believe as most do, or should do, the journey tells the story.
My journey is one that started in 1971 when I wandered over to a local airport, the Windsor airport ( CYQG ) and it is there and then I entered into a life long journey. The seed had been planted of course much earlier, because as we all know, every little boy has dreams. My dream actually started in a snow bank, and I was 5 years old. Living under the approach path of the Windsor airport I would watch airplanes coming and going into the airport. I wondered what they might be seeing, from up there.
I had a portion of a broom stick with which I carved out an open cockpit out of the snow drift, and placing myself in the frozen ground borne snowy cockpit, I flew freely as a bird with the broom stick turned flight control stick, touching the clouds along the way with my wing tips! I had seen cartoons and early TV shows which showed that movement of the control stick would result in a change in the airplane’s flight profile, a bank, a climb, a takeoff and a landing. I was sure I could do that. Around Christmas time I had often prayed for “airplane” toys come from Sanata, and I got some. ( I do know now of course Christmas is not about Santa, but Jesus, I’ll save that for another day, another Blog. ) One Christmas, my mom who had been widowed since I was four, scrounged up enough to buy me a toy airport, complete with a mat for runways, plastic airplanes, and a batter operated control tower with a rotating radar mast.
My oldest brother wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, he was the smart one I used to think, but he lost his love for airplanes and traded that for the love of the automobile. He ended up as a design engineer for Ford, while my other brother who has recently retired as a skilled tradesman ( millwright ) from GM did not openly show affection with the airplane as I experienced. My brothers I love them dearly, they had other passions.
That aviation dream in my younger years was then a distant one, and my interest in such foolishness was discouraged by most of the people that mattered. ( I call these people Dream Breakers ) There were a few very special people who actually encouraged me to think it might be possible to achieve that dream. ( I call those people Dream Makers )
I was deemed a failure by some who wondered aloud through the years about my obsession with all things that fly. I was part of a single parent family before it was fashionable, so for economic reasons among others, it seemed an unlikely unachievable dream for which this little boy to aspire.
Back on course for a moment;
Among the most important elements to my aviation life have been the understanding that flying is more of an art than a science ( yes it is both ) but my soul sees every curved approach flown as an artist brushstroke, and another element just as important to me, the people with whom I have shared the journey, or met along the way.
Being a pilot has got me into some very interesting places, with some very interesting people through the years. I have had the chance to fly two different Prime Ministers, and I have had in my cockpit many different celebrities from major industrialist to the media and entertainment elite. Interesting people, interesting stories, but in end I came to understand they are just frail human beings just like myself despite their outward appearances of success.
One unexpected passenger I had the privilege to carry was a man who I very much liked, was a man by the name of Max Ward. I did not know it when I first met him, but he too was a pilot, as well as an airline owner, and that part I knew. I had the opportunity to fly him in bad weather to Toronto from Windsor in a Navajo when the business jet he had chartered broke down. He sat quietly in the right seat, asked a few questions along the way and after touchdown safely at Pearson ( it wasn’t called that then ) asked if I would work in his northern operation. I was interested, however just when it seemed that I was heading that way, the Canadian government withdrew his northern Dash 7 operations certificate, ( for political reasons ) ending that dream for a while anyway.
Things have changed in the airlines, and no longer are visitors permitted into the cockpit during flight. After 911 having my wife or kids visit me in the cockpit during flight would have resulted in charges. The events of 911 have left a legacy of less freedom for the pilot to asses the risks to the aircraft, and in general in this authors opinion, less freedom for us all under the guise of security.
Crew members I have flown with also have come to the pointy end of the airplane with a story. I have shared many great times with my coworkers through the years, some who I became quite close too as commonality of experience that relationships are built on, i.e., similar perspectives because of similar life experiences bring us to that point of understanding and relationship.
It can be interesting to view at night an unfolding landscape of lights from below, converging with the stars above, and that can lead to some philosophical meanderings as one checks the fuel balance, weather ahead, and other technical duties. Conversations can range from politics to economics, even religion, all the taboo subjects avoided on the ground in polite conversation. The debates are as pilots more likely to be intellectual rather than emotional. Pilot logic. Those discussions are more likely to occur on the long hauls, where boredom can set in… so a good intense discussion can keep the pilots awake during the wee hours of the morning.
Family members have shared in this life with me as well. It is hard to be the “pilot’s wife” or “pilot’s child” because sometimes when meeting new non-aviation people, these new acquaintances want to probe the pilot with aviation questions, and ignore the rest of the family. I have watched my wife squirm with discomfort at “Just one more question about your flying airplanes if you don’t mind?” When encountering non aviators in a non aviation social situation, and when asked about what I do for a living…. I refer most often refer to myself as working at the airport in “flight operations” and that just about ends the conversation. I would rather my wife and family be included in the conversations, and that sometimes can be a challenge if the focus is just my flying.
Flying does allows me to think and live 3D in a 2D world. In the end for me like my music, most pilots I know, (including myself), are musicians or at least try to be, as flying is the art of movement. Guided and directed by a composer, pilot. My big weakness is my lack of desire to do the paperwork, which is required by law, and must be done. My strength is; as the challenge increases in the cockpit, so does my focus, and usually the better result. My love is to paint the sky with invisible curves, touching the cloud tops with my wing tip as I had dreamed of whilst flying the snow drifts in childhood, and appreciating the beauty of it at the time, even better when you can share it with others towards the journey’s end.