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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Loon is a Harsh Mistress: The Pilot’s Dysfunctional Love Affair

More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.

—Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Ask a pilot how he started flying and you will hear a love story.*
One just like mine:
From age 5, I dreamed of flying.  Scanned the skies.  Built model airplanes.  Along with my buddy Alan, doodled dogfights during math class.  Thrilled at the occasional trip to the airport and practically peed my pants to actually fly.  To this day, I remember verbatim the conversation I had—at age 8—with the Hughes Airwest pilots in the cockpit of their Boeing 737.
When I was 14, I announced my intent to buy a hang glider.  Dad said, “Son, if you have the money, you can buy a hang glider.”  Little did he know that this flying-obsessed boy had been saving up lawn mowing allowance for the past three years!  I promptly bought a used Rogallo wing for $430.  I diligently took the ground school, aced the tests, and was thoroughly prepared.  Nevertheless, the flight school, perhaps wisely, made me wait another year, till I was 15, to fly.  And, God bless his soul, my father honored his words, crossed his fingers and let this fledgling chick spread his wings.
It changed my life.  The euphoric feeling was a drug that I would pursue for the rest of my life. 

Fly.  Flying.  To Fly.
Me and my First Love, at age 15
My soul is in the sky.
— William Shakespeare, 
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Shortly thereafter I visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, which included a viewing of the classic IMAX film, "To Fly!"**  Like few other earthbound media, it captured for me the sheer joy and grandeur and magic that is flying.
To Fly…
Hearing those words still give me goosebumps.
From that moment on, I was determined to fly two types of craft: a bush plane, and a spaceship.

The summer of ’87 saw my first wish fulfilled in Alaska.

Death And Ex’s
A pilot retires.
All at once in love again with this painful
bittersweet lovely thing called flight.
— Richard Bach, "A Gift of Wings"
While an Ex or two may have had her suspicions of a fling with a flight attendant, the true culprit would be my long-term love affair with "Fifi," my A320.  Today, her graceful looks, sleek, sexy lines and loving, yet quirky and unforgiving personality are my obsession.*** 
Indeed, I believe more airline-related divorces can be traced to this plain plane obsession than sexual flings.  Often, the plain plane-obsessed pilot comes home from his trip, pecks his wife on the cheek, repacks, and is off to the weekend fly-in.  Football widows got nuthin’ on airplane widows.

Cap'n Aux and Fifi.
Accountants, firemen, even physicians can retire and live to a ripe old age.  But, despite the relatively youthful forced-retirement age of 65, the pilot-retiree often augers in within scant months or years.  I am convinced that this is because, inside, he is heartbroken.  He has lost the Love of his Life;  his harsh mistress of 30-some years has traded him in for a newer model.  Oh, he may have dabbled with his own Cessna 182 during his brief twilight years, but it’s like trading the Supermodel for the cleaning lady.  He has lost his purpose, his identity, a large chunk of his core personality.

Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds.
Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
 Captain Malcomb Reynolds, "Serenity"

Mal had his Serenity.  Kirk and Picard had their Enterprise.  Adama had his Galactica.  And have my Fifi.
Fifi is my spaceship.  From her glass cockpit at FL390, on a moonless night I can gaze out the window at the lights of Planet Earth as they meld with the Milky Way, and imagine being in command of a starship cruising at Warp Speed.

I savor these fleeting years, when I and my mistress are perfectly content.

MCCOY:  Well, I doubt seriously if there's any kind of love antidote we can give the Captain for the Enterprise.
SPOCK:  In this particular instance, Doctor, I agree with you.
KIRK:  Mr. Sulu, ahead warp factor two.
—Star Trek, Elaan of Troyius (paraphrased)

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and the Love of your Life.

* While sailors et al have traditionally referred to their vessels as “she,” feel free to substitute a more gender-neutral or politically correct moniker for “pilot” and “plane” than “he” and “she,” respectively =)
**Still shown daily at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, DC
    • The first few minutes of To Fly!:
    • Buy the DVD on Amazon, eBay or the like.  Better yet, go see it at the Smitshonian.  Best yet, go take a flying lesson!
***My all-time favorite planes:  Those I’ve flown:  de Havilland Beaver, Twin Otter, Grumman Mallard, Airbus A320.  Those I've always wanted to fly:  Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny,” DC-3, Boeing 727, 747, and anything on floats.  My all-time favorite airplane:  P-51D Mustang.
What’s your favorite plane, and have you been lucky enough to fly/ride in one?  And, briefly, what’s your most memorable aviation experience?  Please comment and let us know!


  1. Captain...........your Lovely could not agree...more.........

    My Love affair with "Aviation".......very much alive and well!!!!!!!

    Almost sounds silly.......Not so!!!!!!!

    a good time for well....

    I vividly remember watching the TWA Jets lined up 4 and 5 deep....on approach to the parallels into St. Louis....Lambert Field........back in the 80's and so on.

    It was as if they were bright if there wasn't any movement.....

    just waiting for someone to make a wish on a shooting star.....

    these jets, your FiFi............yes they are mechanical......and can be a little rough....moving at groundlevel

    .....but in the Air....they hold whats most 'Dear' to us....those Souls on Board!!!!!!!!!!
    Thank you Captain Eric....for this Post!!!!!


    1. Jules, don't tell me YOU have a love affair with aviation? Shocked! xoxo

    2. Nice memories! It's lovely watching the same lineup in PHX from the East, West or North…

      Giulia, I think you are having he same affair, lol!

  2. "YOUR GONNA FLY"......

    You could be a blackbird
    On the country street
    Hiding from the world with a broken wing
    But you better believe you're gonna fly with me,

    You could be a songbird from New Orleans
    Scared of the rain just as scared to sing
    But you better believe you're gonna fly with me

    Isn't that Lovely.........!!!!(a chorus from Keith Urban's "Your gonna Fly"......

    The Message.................
    THE SKIES THE LIMIT........!!!!

    Thank you for the clip...........!!!!!!..

    1. …blackbird singin' in the dead of night,
      take these broken wings and learn to fly.
      All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise…
      --Paul McCartney

      Glad you like!
      Sweet song, J ;-)

    2. PS--Just got back from a trip; had a former TWA pilot on the jumpseat. They are still out there flyin', darlin'!

    3. How Absolutely Cool!!!!!!!!!!!...and this TWA Pilot......was in your 'jump seat'.......!!!!!.......I wonder, does he still fly.....for another carrier???....
      Capt'n Eric.THANKS SO MUCH...........for telling me..........

      you didn't bad mouth me....did ya.............kidding...(i think)......

      I Do MissTWA!!!!!!!!!!

      Happy Valentine's Day to you Captain....and to All Love Affairs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      and remember........'LIVE LONG AND PROSPER'......

    4. Ya, he's working…for that OTHER carrier…that's "related" to TWA…

      Peace and long life ;)

    5. I read this recently..........I can't recall where...........said,

      "the engines are the heart of the plane, but the Pilot serve's as her Soul"
      quiet simple..but profound!!!..

    6. LOVE WHAT YA DONE WITH THE PLACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      NOT JOKING.......YOU'VE GOT GREAT TASTE..........!!!!!!

      Yep Capt'n,
      the OTHER......"carrier"........
      enough said!!

      So Lovely...that many times....."TWA Airline's"......isn't far from the some discussions!!!!

      and the retirement of Jets...just as Sad.........!!!

      have seen far too many of the Beautiful....."TWA".....Jets as well,make their last touch down, especially those "Wide Bodies"........from a time gone by!!!
      Last night on the "Smithsonian channel"
      ........was a 2010 docu...on the "Concorde" the end........
      when 5 of those birds made their last landings...together, back in the Heathrow...
      Even today.......Grown Men...were crying........just talking about that time!!!!!!!!!...I know I cried.....and not Even embarassed about it.......!!!!

      Safe Travels...Capt'n E

  3. Great dedication to your love, Cap'n.

    Since you two have been together for so long, I would kinda say that it has turned into more of a marriage. :)

    I like your postscripts...ha ha! Trying to be PC, aren't ya? Thanks for the links to the video clips...watched them and wished they were playing at our Aviation Museum. Darn.

    And always love a good reference to Picard (not much of a Kirk girl).

    All the best to you,


    1. Haha ya I've been with her longer than any wife, lol!

      Glad you like the postscripts; I always wonder if people check 'em out. I try to put some good gems in there! I hope some day you can see "To Fly"" on an IMAX screen--frikkin' awesome!!

      Grew up with Kirk, but Picard is much more what a real captain should be like! Still plan on doing a post about that some day…;)

  4. Count me a new follower. I look forward to surfing your archive on the long layovers. Curiously though, your pages don't fit my screen. I have to scroll right to see it all. Must be a button somewhere to push for that. (Never been too good at buttons, switches and dials.) Tailwinds.

    1. Welcome aboard, Alan!

      Afraid I can't help you there. I just pinch the screen on my iPad or Mac and viola, lol!

      I think you (and others) will like this--just found it on USA Today:

      Extreme fliers: They love flying, they really, really do

      Highlights of the MegaDo

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. PS--Between your 75/76 and Yak, I'm sure you're pretty good at working with "steam gauges" at least! ;-)

    4. Love reading your blog too, Alan. :)

    5. Alan,
      I readjusted the column widths a tad. Let me know how it looks for ya!

  5. Dear Cap’n Aux—I love your blog! My flying fascinations began with an April birthday biplane ride in a 1929 Fleet (yes, same as in Richard Bach’s “Illusions”) at Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore of Oahu. The plane was a gorgeous maroon with red striping in perfect condition. The rumor was the plane had been Lindberg’s at one time (the pilot’s wife’s family was connected via Pan Am).

    Being a huge fan of Bach, the plane’s story, etc...I felt I’d died and gone to heaven. What the pilot made that plane do from the loopdee loops, spirals, & buzzing breaching whales off shore. He finished it off with a silhouette he made of us on the clouds; he created a circle rainbow with our plane & us in the center of the silhouette from the sun’s light via the paint on the plane…I wasn’t the same for days.

    Needless to say I vowed to do a different airborne experience every year for my birthday there after…

    1. Thank you SO much for sharing your wonderful flight with us! So glad to have you here, Carmen!

      I read "Illusions" when I was 15--it was a life-changer, too! So jealous of your romp in the Fleet!! Believe it or not, I have yet to fly in a biplane, or a balloon! Come to think of it, great idea, lol!!

      I am trying to dig up from the archives my first hand account of my first hang glider flight to share with y'all. Quite magical!

      Anyone else wanna chime in with a story?!

  6. Oh...I see "Istanbul Airside"......has joined...........your blog.....Capt'n....:))))

    Hello Metin.........!!!



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