June 14, 2001

I felt like a drifter, sort of floating into town. At quarter to six on this June morning, the sun was high enough to cast long shadows across the sleepy hills and valleys below. I was freshly returned from a two week vacation, and I afforded myself the luxury of thinking that it was hard to tell work from play. I smiled, suddenly realizing that I was now fully recovered from the traumatic thought I had suffered several days earlier.

This thought had struck me as I was chugging along northeast of Geneva, going from an early breakfast at Middlesex to a late breakfast at Weedsport. As I was admiring a cute cabin nestled in a woods among the drumlins, my mind actually formed the thought that I would rather be there than here... I would rather be sitting in a quiet cabin than floating along in my airplane. I shuddered, but you can't unthink something that you have thought, and the more you try, the deeper it etches its memory.

It has been difficult, and it has taken a great deal of introspective observation and analysis, but I think I have banished the thought. Flying is only an incidental factor in the business of air transportation, whereas breakfast at a distant airport is only incidental to the fact that you can fly there. When I am sitting in the front of the company's airplane, it is my job to make my performance match their expectations and the expectations of the traffic control system. When I go flying in my own plane, the only thing that other people expect is that I will return home about two hours later than I promised.

For five nights a week I am the systems operator of a million dollar machine as it moves along invisible pathways in the sky. There is a multitude of trivial tasks, and an occasional demand for decisive action, but I often gaze out the windows and think of things I want to do tomorrow or next weekend. Pretty much, no matter who you are or what you do, work is work, and the mind struggles to escape. Professional flying is not at all the same as recreational flying.

My weekly romp in the little plane rejuvenates the sense of freedom that is woven into the fiber of flying. Recreational flying is like sitting on the front porch of life; you can feel a part of everything that passes by. Flying higher and faster in "real' airplanes offers a great view but it is more like looking at the world through a thick window in a heavy wall. You can see things but you can't feel a part of them, and your senses retreat. Without the little plane to remind me of the joys of flying, my time spent in the company airplane would soon feel like factory work.

As I drifted down into Elmira that morning, the flight was essentially complete. I had tripped over no sleeping dogs, and the night had remained peaceful. At this hour of the morning there were no more clearances to obey, and I was free to fully admire the start of another beautiful day.

I looked north and could see Seneca all the way to Geneva. I could see the high hills beyond Bath and the mountains of western Pennsylvania, and I watched the "passenger view" as the city of Elmira slid past my side window. The view was beautiful to see, but the real beauty was that it reminded me of the things I see so often when I fly for fun.

My own airplane is small but so are the keys to the castle. When I fly the little red plane, I can go where my fancy leads me; from the highest turret, through the ballroom, or a swoop through the basement. Without my simple little plane, I could still move about the castle, but only as "hired help".

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