Extreme Fliers

I’m here at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, enjoying the world’s largest general aviation extravaganza.  The smell of jet A and 100 LL (low-lead) in the morning air, the gentle roar of piston and turbine, and the sight of man-made objects defying gravity is something I’ll never get tired of.

For many people, everything associated with aviation is scary, almost unholy.  Money spent for aviation is unnecessary.

What these people don’t fully realize is that it is only by pushing the envelope of human experience do we learn new technologies that can help everyone.  For instance, seat-belts and anti-lock brakes are two easy examples of aviation innovations that the rest of us use every day.

Here’s another innovation that we might appreciate years from now.  A group of aviation enthusiasts at Purdue is working with quadriplegics, paraplegics, and others who have been disabled in order to teach them to fly.  And so far, they have fledged 40 people into the skies.

Why is the work of Able Flight and the Purdue Aviation Technology Department important?  Because it pushes our knowledge and technology to the limits.  It does the seemingly impossible and makes it possible.  And in so doing, they may learn something that can help others, or perhaps even you and me.

So, the next time you see a child playing with a model airplane, or a youngster taking their first flight, encourage them.  After all, they might help the rest of us in unexpected ways.  Now excuse me, I’ve gotta fly!


Welcome to Yoga. Prepare to die.

Scared?  Don’t be.  This is the attitude you should have when you walk into a yoga class.

In fact, this is the best attitude to have when you get on an airplane, drive a car, or even walk across the street.  Our lives only come with one guarantee, you see.  At some point in time, we’re done.  Everything we do leading up to that time is called living!

I absolutely love to fly airplanes. Small ones, single engine types.  Most fun you can have by yourself, incredibly liberating.  But one of the most surprising revelations during my flight training was learning that good pilots spend a lot of their time thinking about what happens when things go wrong.

When we fly, we are exhibiting one of the newest and most revolutionary forms of behavior mankind has ever exhibited.  We are defying the law of gravity.  But reality intrudes, and every pilot who has flown enough knows that at some point something will go wrong.  It’s how we respond to that emergency that counts.  So the next time you meet a pilot, remember that they may look optimistic on the outside, they are really thinking morbid thoughts on the inside.  The best pilots are well balanced optimistic pessimists.

Now, welcome to yoga.  We warm up our bodies, we twist and turn, plank and invert.  It’s fun in many ways.  But what we’re thinking on the inside is that, someday, something is going to go wrong.  After all, our bodies have a trillion parts to them.  It’s how we deal with that bad part that counts.  We push the edge of our ability, and hope that when the time comes (it will come!) our yoga practice makes us better able to handle the health emergency.

Optimistic pessimism.  Or is it pessimistic optimism?  Yoga and aviation.  Who knew?


Miles high club

Most people don’t think about flying as a behavior, yet it is all about behavior in it most advanced and blatant forms.

First, you walk onto a platform suspended above the ground.  You’ve been on bridges many times, perhaps so many times you’ve forgotten their inherent danger.  YOU ARE SUSPENDED with only tiny sticks holding you up!  True, those sticks may be I-beams, concrete pillars, but they hold you up!

After walking across that bridge, you enter a narrow aluminum can.  If you were the size of a gummy bear the average soda can would be the exact same analogy.  You’re in a can.  A can with wings.  And really strong engines.

You know all these things, yet you still walk into that can.  (Chances are…) You aren’t an engineer.  You aren’t a physicist.  Yet you trust the engines to roar.  You trust the moving air to lift the wings.  You trust the wings to stay attached to your tin can.  And you trust the pilot to take you up and down, safely.  It’s a bridge THAT MOVES!

All of this is behavior.  It took knowledge and lots of work to make those engines, those wings, those connections.  It took courage and confidence for the first aviators to look upward, saying goodbye to the ground.  And it takes your trust in fellow man (along with a dash of courage in yourself) to follow millions of fellow travelers into the air.

It’s also a behavior to allow yourself to be squeezed into 20 inches of knee room.  Or allowing a stranger to sneeze in your lap.  Or allowing the person in front of you to drop their seat into your lap without asking.

You can choose how you wish to behave.  Behavior is everything we do, everything every living thing can do.  But what makes behavior so fascinating is that all of it is under our influence.  You choose to fly.  Not because you have wings, but because you trust others who have made wings for you.

Have a great flight!  Behave yourself!