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If You Have to Ask

"So, you flew yourself down here for the wedding?" asked the bridesmaid at the reception.

"Yes, we flew down in my club's Cessna," I answered. "The weather was beautiful!"

"Wow–that's cool," she said.

"Yes, I'm very lucky," I agreed.

Somehow I'd managed yet again to let slip in casual conversation that I fly airplanes. It's pathetic, I know, but I can't help myself. It is cool, and most of the people I mention it to seem to get it. But there are some who don't even bother to feign a polite interest, and the occasional person who seems actively hostile to the idea.

"My God, that's so dangerous," they might say. "Why do you do that?!"

We pilots are used to questions like this, and many of us have come to respond with words to the effect, "If you have to ask, I can't explain it to you!" We concede that it's impossible to fully capture in words the magic and passion of flight.

Of course I'm going to try anyway.

I can quote the usual stock reasons: There's the feeling of freedom, the spectacular view, and the satisfaction of achieving something rare and remarkable. But beyond that for me is something deeper—a profound and thrilling sense of connection with my home the Earth.

It's rooted in sensory experience: seeing the moon casting the shadow of the tail on the wing; traversing the nave of a vast cloud cathedral; floating over the landscape as the raking light of sunset paints it in a rich red-orange; noticing the distinctive scent of clouds while flying on instruments; climbing out of the grey gloom into the dazzling sunlight above a vast sea of white stretching from horizon to horizon; catching sight of the beacon at your destination airport after a long flight.

But it's more than just a sensory experience. It's more than simply gaining a better understanding of geography. It's about insight. It's about deepening my relationship with the things of the Earth, being able to see their interconnectedness in a way that just isn't possible from a ground-bound perspective.

Still, for all the words I can throw at it, the deep, inexplicable thrill of flight is something that you just have to experience for yourself.

Why fly? If you have to ask, find yourself a pilot you trust—and go flying!

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