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Respecting the Craft

It had been weeks since I'd flown. Between work commitments and urgent home repairs, I had been spread pretty thin. Finally I found a few fair-weather, daylight hours to spare, and I felt rested—and the Arrow was available!

I found myself tempted to get a quick weather briefing, jump in the car, and rush off to the airport, but I've come to recognize the siren song of impulsivity. After getting a full briefing and checking TFRs, I had a few minutes before I needed to leave for the airport.

"All right, what am I going to practice today?" I muttered aloud to myself. I opened the Practical Test Standards for the maneuvers I wanted to focus on and mentally rehearsed them. I also reminded myself that the flight was going to be about learning, not about proving anything to myself or anyone else.

My last flight in the Arrow had not been fun, and I mean "no fun at all." I think it was the first flight of my flying career that wasn't. I alluded to the experience in my last post, and it had very little to do with the flight itself. But by interpreting the usual (and necessary) errors required by learning as contrary to the image of myself as a "good pilot," I managed to have a perfectly miserable time. In short, I allowed my ego to get in the way.

Now I could say that flying requires a healthy dose of humility, and I wouldn't be wrong. The challenges of flying certainly can be humbling. But I think there's an even more important attitude that we can bring to flying, and that's respect. Both humility and its complement, arrogance, are points on an egocentric scale, and our pursuit of confidence in the cockpit often plays out entirely along this continuum. When following this program, it's easy to oscillate between extremes. But true respect transcends ego entirely.

Respect for what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry called "the craft" is probably the most valuable lesson I've learned in flying, and just when I think I've finally really understood it, I discover new depths and subtleties. At this point, I'm convinced that respect is a quality and an attitude that can always grow and deepen if we allow it to. In this context I realized that my reaction of frustration to perfectly ordinary mistakes was a sign that I could bring much greater respect to the situation.

It's easy to say that respect is in short supply these days, as we experience less and less respect in our daily interactions, in our public discourse, and even in aviation, as Thomas B. Haines lamented in a recent column in AOPA Pilot magazine. Even so, the craft of flying still provides one of the best opportunities I know for practicing a holistic kind of respect. Respect for the craft builds respect for oneself, which in turn brings deeper respect to our interactions with others.

This understanding of respect comes not from some kind of compulsion, coercion, or submission, but from a natural recognition of the truth about ourselves, our situation, and our role in it.

So with all this in mind I went flying—and it went just fine. I flew each maneuver, assessed the results against the Practical Test Standards, decided on any corrective action, and flew the maneuver again, repeating until satisfied with my progress or until deciding to come back to it another day. In short, I brought a healthy dose of respect to my usual observe-act-observe process.

But you know what was best of all? It was fun.

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