SW Aviator Magazine - June/July 1999 issue
The Pilots I have Loved
by Mary Carlisle, chronic co-pilot
My affinity for pilots started when I was just a small child. I was four; he was 27. I was a small girl; he was the son of the Shah of Iran. He was attending basic training at Lackland Air Force Base under the guidance of my father.

He wooed me with red pistachios and tales of flying. Our romance came to an abrupt end when—just before returning home to Iran—he offered to buy me from my folks. They refused, and he took off, leaving me only with pistachio-stained fingers and a fascination with those who fly.

I suppose every girl thinks her dad is the best thing since canned beer, and I truly idealized my dad. For so many years, my father walked out our door every morning wearing his handsome, blue uniform and heading for the airport—or so I thought. It was the Air Force, and he was a drill sergeant. Not a pilot? I didn't love him any less, but it was a huge letdown.

I moved on through adolescence, in love with the air bases I lived on. "That's the sound of freedom," I would think as F-4s buzzed our house at 5 a.m. Those were the days.

As I went through high school in rural Alabama—far away from my beloved fighter pilots—I transferred my affection to a lanky, redheaded, corporate pilot. He was a young 22; I was a dumb 17. It was a perfectly appropriate romance.

Our weekends often began with him telling me, "I'm flying the boss and his bimbo to the Bahamas till Sunday."


"I promise not to have a good time!"

Yeah, right.

For three years, we continued cruising along—gradually into different directions. I went from high school to college; he went from twin propjet to Lear. That was the end. He'd gotten too uppity for my taste.

I trudged along through my early twenties, dating so many pilots: helicopter pilots, corporate pilots, recreational pilots, airline pilots (though the airline pilot thing couldn't really be called dating). It was a life of touch-and-goes.

Buying birthday and Christmas gifts was always a breeze for me while dating my flyboys. "Honey, I bought you a book/poster/movie with planes in it!"

"Cool!" It worked every time.

And, of course, my presents were always cleverly wrapped in old flight maps.

When you are dating a pilot, all your girlfriends joke about the Mile High Club, but it's never true. For starters, the pilot always takes his job so seriously. Secondly, there's the all-important question of "Who'll fly the plane?" while trying for an initiation. Lastly, my pilot boyfriends didn't usually own the plane they flew, so it would have been like borrowing someone elses apartment: fun, but sort of awkward and odd.

What was the fascination I had with these guys? Was it the inherent danger? Was the utter sadness of saying good-bye all the time? Was it the occasional free plane ride? Perhaps it was the drama of watching the movie Always and identifying with Holly Hunter's character. I'm still not sure.

I split from my last pilot love on very good terms…I think. Helicopter pilots are special. You just can't figure out someone who flies a machine that appears so ill-designed for flight. They are their own breed.

I have moved on in life. My adoration of those who fly remains, but now I date normal, feet-on-the-ground guys: computer programmers and the like. When they crash, I just point and laugh.

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