Why We Fly

A few weeks ago, AVweb asked (as our Question of the Week), 'Why do you Fly?' One reader chose to respond by sending the following extended answer, and we thought it was too good to keep to ourselves.

By Bob Falconer

These words are impromptu "Talking Stick" remarks that just came out during a gathering of family and friends to celebrate the life of Richard Dyken on July 15, 1999. A dedicated sky-diver-driver, he had just lost his life doing what he loved so much. The Talking Stick is a symbolic staff that served Native American group meetings to maintain order, much like "having the floor" during business or political gatherings. It also is believed to convey positive spirit from speaker to speaker as it changes hands, thus aiding each to convey his or her message. Dick's family was a big one, and they often used it at gatherings to help keep order. It came out just as we began speaking in his behalf. I believe it worked. Following is my best shot at putting my extemporaneous remarks in writing after the fact. I was mostly addressing the family who knew how much Dick loved flying -- but didn't all appear to really understand why.



Somebody asked me the other day at the office -- recalling that I knew Dick and was much saddened at the news of his loss -- "Why do you guys like to fly so much?" Although many of you in Dick's family supported his love of the sky, perhaps more than most families, I suspect others of you might ask the same question. Dick had many reasons, I'm sure, and I'll bet some were the same as mine.

Carrying a load of parachute jumpers high up at dusk on a summer evening can sometimes place you between towering clouds, perhaps with a distant thunderstorm to the east with its form illuminated and colored richly by the setting sun. Lightning in the clouds gives a hint of real but distant danger inside which only adds to the beauty. There is no sight like it, and what we see from the ground does not compare.

That is why we fly.

High above a great city on a clear night, a pilot has a front-seat view of a majestic light show that earthbound beings cannot imagine. Up front and in the darkened cockpit, the pilot has a perspective that is inspiring and far broader than the passenger's view through an airliner's tiny side window. Even over the rural countryside the pilot has a view of distant cities and towns, which look like jewels connected by sparkling threads. Then, there is the incomparable night flight at building-top height down the Chicago lakefront. These are visual treats hard to equal -- and few people have access to such sights.

That is why we fly.

Cruising serenely over a solid cloud deck, the aircraft nears its destination. It's time to settle in for close attention to the job at hand. Letting down into the cottony billows, the pilot loses all outside references and transitions to a discipline that comes from long training and experience. Now it is time for serious flying, and she plays the tools of her trade like musical instruments. Working the navigational aids and gently maneuvering on approach, she guides her craft precisely until it breaks out of the low clouds, and there is the runway straight ahead. All she has to do is close the throttle and land. Having mastered the skills and passed the tests to fly on instruments, she gains a satisfaction rarely equaled. It is technology and training; not magic, but relatively few among us can do it. It feels good.

That is why we fly.

Taking a young person for a first airplane ride is unique. The youngster might be afraid at first to even get into the plane, but Mom urges her on. "Go ahead, you'll love it." The young teen clenches her hands and closes her eyes at takeoff. The pilot gently banks the plane and taps his nervous passenger to point out her house below. This distraction breaks into the apprehension, and she ventures a peek -- and another. Soon she is excitedly pointing out school, church and shopping center. Then, the pilot removes his hands from the controls and suggests she try it. "Oh, no, I couldn't do that!" "Sure you can. Look, the plane is flying itself. All you have to do is show it which way to go." Tentative at first, she soon is confidently turning and twisting over the countryside, now not wanting to go back to the airport. But we must. The real reward comes after landing when the youngster slips out of the seat with new-found confidence and sense of adventure, turns and says, "Thanks mister; I don't have to be afraid any more!" (True experience)

That is why we fly.

And finally, I know this is one of the reasons Dick liked to fly. To take someone up for a first parachute jump is to expose him or her to one of the most intense, exciting moments in a lifetime, and it is a real reward to share the thrill and happiness it can bring. Even with the experienced jumpers, I know Dick got great pleasure from helping so many people have a really good time for so long.

That, too, is why we fly.

Somehow, right now, I've got a feeling that he is out there somewhere flying right this moment. Perhaps he is looking down on us here below. And I'll bet he's got a brand new airplane!