By: Steven Daun, National Chief Pilot
It is hard to describe to non-pilots the feeling that pilots get while flying. Regardless of what type of flying you do, we all start at the same point. And for most of us, there are certain milestones that we have in common. As we branch into and become established in our part of the aviation industry, some of those milestones branch as well. But we all start out equal.
The first milestone in a pilot’s life is to satisfy the burning desire to fly. This fire is usually sparked by some life event in which the person was a passenger or an observer.
The next milestone is to satisfy the burning desire to fly an airplane. Somehow, somewhere and in some way, we find ourselves at the controls or at least sitting upfront. It may have been a long journey, but we eventually make it from the passenger seats in the back to the first row by the front windshield.
We then come to the next milestone, which involves the “learning to fly” process. Some do this through civilian flight schools while others do this through the military. Regardless, the overall milestone is the same. Get your hands on the throttle and yoke, and take command of the airplane.
Now that we have gotten our hands on the airplane, we begin to focus on the next milestone. No matter what type of pilot you are or want to be, we all must solo at some point. That is the first time you are in sole command of an aircraft as its sole occupant. This is one of the most exciting and exhilarating times in a pilot’s life – usually, a time that will stay with you forever. It is similar in memory and effect as to your wedding day or child’s birth.
The next milestone is the preparation for and the earning of your Private Pilot Certificate. This is truly an important milestone because now you are officially a pilot. There are estimates that the active global pilot population is just under 600,000 people. Estimating the global population at just over 7.5 million people, pilots make up less than .007 percent of the population. Congratulations, you have just become a member of a very elite group.
Regardless of what path is chosen after earning your private pilot certificate, it will always come back to and usually involves the reason why you started to fly in the first place. That first flight in a taildragger, the first time you made waves in a seaplane, the time you saw the curvature of the earth from a jet: these experiences influenced our subsequent milestones. Milestones at this point are as specific and individualized as your fingerprint. Regardless of whether you like to go high and fast or low and slow, we all started down the same path. The motivation for these first milestones is best explained in the poem “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
And done a hundred things you have not dreamed of,
Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along,
And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
It’s okay that most non-pilots may not understand your motivation and milestones. It’s okay that they think you are a risk-taker. It’s okay if they don’t understand because we do. That feeling hasn’t changed since the Montgolfier brothers took their first flight on June 4, 1783. Your brothers and sisters who have come before and after you understand. We have been there and we have shared the same passion to “slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God.” So, the only question you have to answer is what is your next milestone?