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My Two Cents Worth (April 2014 Issue)

by Randy Mains

I love aviation humor.  I love it because I’ve found it always carries an element of truth.  Consider the following homework assignment purported to have been written by a fifth grade student at Jefferson School, Beaufort, SC. entitled:
 

Why I want to be a Pilot

 When I grow up I want to be a pilot because it's a fun job and easy to do. That's why there are so many pilots flying around these days. Pilots don't need much school. They just have to learn to read numbers so they can read their instruments. I guess they should be able to read a road map, too. Pilots should be brave so they won't get scared if it's foggy and they can't see, or if a wing or motor falls off. Pilots have to have good eyes to see through the clouds, and they can't be afraid of thunder or lightning because they are much closer to them than we are. The salary pilots make is another thing I like. They make more money than they know what to do with. This is because most people think that flying a plane is dangerous, except pilots don't because they know how easy it is. I hope I don't get airsick because I get carsick and if I get airsick I couldn't be a pilot and then I would have to go to work.

    What I really love are the pithy quotes found in aviation, each one a truism that resonates within all of us who have ever gone aloft.  For example consider the following observations:

  • Just remember, if you crash because of weather, your funeral will be held on a  sunny day.
  • Always remember you fly an aircraft with your head, not your hands.
  • Try to learn from the mistakes of others.  You won’t live long enough to make all of them yourself.
  • If helicopters are so safe how come there are no vintage/classic helicopter fly-   ins?
  • Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you.
  • Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous.  But to an even greater degree than the sea it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.
  • In flying I have learned that carelessness and overconfidence are usually far     more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks.  Wilber Wright in a letter to his father in 1900.
  • Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory ... in other words, for every take-off, there WILL be a landing.
  • Flying isn’t dangerous.  Crashing is what’s dangerous.
  • A helicopter is a collection of rotating parts going round and round and     reciprocating parts going up and down – all of them trying to become random in motion.
  • A meteorologist is just a common person who went to school long enough to be paid to guess what the weather is going to be.
  • Good judgment comes from experience.  Unfortunately, experience usually     comes from bad judgment.
  • If a helicopter pilot uses his superior judgment he will not be called on to use his superior skills.
  • You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill  the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.
  • “The helicopter is a fine way to travel, but it induces a view of the world that only God and CEOs share on a regular basis.”  Morley Safer, journalist on the CBS TV news program 60 Minutes reported.

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, John Steinbeck, who authored such classics as Tortilla Flat , Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row and East of Eden, wrote about the skills he witnessed in the helicopter pilots who flew him when he was reporting for Newsday from Vietnam.

Not widely known is the fact that in 1966-67, a year before his death, Steinbeck went to Vietnam to do a series for Newsday of reports on the war. The reports took the form of letters to his dear friend Alicia Patterson, Newsday's first editor and publisher.  Those letters have been published in a book by Thomas E. Barden, Vietnam veteran and professor of English at the University of Toledo. The book is entitled, “Steinbeck on Vietnam: Dispatches from the War.”

On January 7, 1967, Steinbeck was in Pleiku flying with Shamrock flight, D Troop, 10th Cavalry.  In one of his first letters home he wrote:

Alicia,
    I wish I could tell you about these pilots. They make me sick with envy. They ride their vehicles the way a man controls a fine, well-trained quarter horse. They weave along stream beds, rise like swallows to clear trees, they turn and twist and dip like swifts in the evening. I watch their hands and feet on the controls, the delicacy of the coordination reminds me of the sure and seeming slow hands of (Pablo) Casals on the cello. They are truly musician’s hands and they play their controls like music and they dance them like ballerinas and they make me jealous because I want so much to do it.    

Remember your child night dream of perfect flight – free and wonderful? It's like that, and sadly I know I never can. My hands are too old and forgetful to take orders from the command center, which speaks of updrafts and side winds, of drift and shift, or ground fire indicated by a tiny puff or flash, or a hit and all these commands must be obeyed by the musician’s hands instantly and automatically. I must take my longing out in admiration and the joy of seeing it.  Sorry about that leak of ecstasy, Alicia, but I had to get it out or burst.”

One last observation from noted aviation author Richard Bach who, on August 31st 2012, suffered a near-fatal crash when the small amphibious plane he was flying struck wires: 
    “Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't.”

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