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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Wischful Thinking
The Joy of Flying

by Jay Wischkaemper

As pilots, we have a need for speed. We all fly airplanes to go fast. No one who has flown a 160-knot machine is going to be content to plod along in a Cessna 150. I know there are those who like the low and slow routine, and I’ll admit that there are times on a cool summer evening that I wish it didn’t cost so much to fire up the Bellanca and bore holes in the sky, because it would be lovely to be able to cruise along with the door open on a J-3 Cub enjoying the sights and smells of the evening. But for the most part, airplanes are traveling machines that are intended to get us from point A to point B faster and more efficiently than other modes of transportation.

Our airplane is pretty well equipped. GPS, DME, Stormscope, etc., etc. Nothing wrong with all that fancy stuff. In fact, I rather enjoy having it. There’s something sort of neat about taking off, pushing a few buttons, and having nothing else to do except enjoy the ride until you get to your destination. The issue I want to discuss, however, is how much we really enjoy the ride.

When I’m flying somewhere, I find myself paying a lot of attention to the GPS. In no wind, real world, conditions, we’ll get around 150 knots, notwithstanding what the book and all aviation writers say a Bellanca is supposed to cruise at. Of course, since there is always wind, it’s normally a few knots one side or the other of that. It really doesn’t matter what it is, it isn’t enough. If I happen to have a good tailwind and am seeing 170 knots, I am wishing for 180. If I have the normal headwind and am seeing 120 knots, I simply impatiently reflect on the fact that if I were flying a lesser plane like the poor people have to, 120 knots would be top speed without the wind and I’d only be doing 90. All the time, I sit there transfixed on how fast I’m going and how many minutes it’s going to take me to get to where I’m going.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, that’s pretty much how I approach life. I’m always behind. There’s always something that needs to be done. My personality is such that I can’t stand to not be doing something. I have a friend who is a psychologist who gave me some personality and aptitude tests a few years back. I was hopeful he could give me some great insights on how I could perform better. He didn’t. One of the things he did tell me was that I was motivated by anxiety. I kindly tried to tell him that his test had a problem, because I wasn’t anxious, but when I got to thinking about it, I realized he was right on. I am motivated by anxiety, because if I don’t have something to do all the time, I’m anxious.

He went on to assure me that there was nothing necessarily wrong with that, other than the fact that I would be a prime candidate for a coronary at age 55. That was some comfort. But at least now I understand it, and can try to work on it. Now I make a conscious effort to try to slow down and smell the roses.

I wonder if we don’t have the same type of syndrome when we’re flying. Could we be so obsessed with getting somewhere, and getting somewhere fast, that we miss the majority of the beauty that is there for us to experience? As private pilots, we have a perspective on the world that few have. We aren’t 30,000 feet in the air where the ground below is so far away that it looks like what came out of a messy baby’s diaper. We’re far enough up to gain a new perspective, but close enough that if we will take the time to view it and appreciate it, we can see so much beauty. We can see the distinct hues of the different crops in the fields, or the twists and turns of the river as it snakes toward the sea. We see the direction of the wind as it is kicks up dirt from the farmer’s plow. We can see the canyons below us, and tell that they are canyons. We can see cattle meandering single file along trails broken a century earlier. We see the town squares from above, and wonder who down there is looking up at us. We can see the boats as they speed along the lakes below. We can, in the immortal words of John Gillespie Magee, “dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings…do a hundred things you have not dreamed of…high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, we’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung our eager craft through footless halls of air. We’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle flew. And while with silent, lifting mind we’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out our hand, and touched the face of God.” Isn’t that how it is?

Actually, that’s probably how it should be. The reality is that we’re so glued to the GPS and DME, watching every mile and every minute click off, urging our craft along to get where we’re going sooner, that we miss the joy and beauty and wonder of what we do. And all of that is available to us. Sure, flying is about getting somewhere fast, but it’s more than that. It’s about looking at life from a different perspective. It’s about doing something that most people either can’t, or won’t do. It’s about freedom. And yet, in all that available freedom, we choose to be slaves to our machine.

The thought has occurred to me that if I really enjoy flying, why am I in such a hurry for the flight to be over. What difference does it make if I’m only getting 100 knots, other than the fact that I’m burning a whole lot of gas to be going no faster than that. Relax, I need to tell myself. Smell the roses. Enjoy the moment. Look for what you can see that others cannot. Look for the mountains. Look for the fields. Look at the houses. Look for what is different this time that wasn’t on the route last time. Go a different way. If it’s a 200-mile trip, head off course for the first half of the flight, and hit the direct button on the GPS. It might make 10 minutes difference in the flight, but you enjoy flying anyway, right?
Make it more than a trip. Make it a joy. Make it a passion. Be alive.

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure. Jay’s first article “Dreams,” published in the Feb/Mar 00 edition of Southwest Aviator, was so popular we decided to bring him on board as a regular columnist. - ed

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