The Airline Pilot (author unknown)

Posted 02/23/04

From Charles Wilder

You see them at airport terminals around the world. You see them in the morning early, sometimes at night. They come neatly uniformed and hatted, sleeves striped; they show up looking fresh. There's a brisk, young-old look of efficiency about them.

They arrive fresh from home, from hotels, carrying suitcases, battered briefcases, bulging, with a wealth of technical information, data, filled with regulations, rules.

They know the new, harsh sheen of Chicago's O'Hare. They know the cluttered approaches to Newark; they know the tricky shuttle that is Rio; they know, but do not relish, threading the needle into Hong Kong.

They respect foggy San Francisco. They know the up-and-down walk to the gates at Dallas, the Texas sparseness of Abilene, the Berlin Corridor, New Orleans' sparkling terminal, the milling crowds at Washington. They know Butte, Boston, and Beirut. They appreciate Miami's perfect weather. They recognize the danger of an ice-slick runway at JFK.

They understand about short runways, antiquated fire equipment, inadequate approach lighting, but there is one thing they will never comprehend: Complacency.

They remember the workhorse efficiency of the DC-3s, the reliability of the DC- 4s and DC 6s, the trouble with the DC-7s. They discuss the beauty of an old gal named Connie. They recognize the high shrill whine of a Viscount, the rumbling thrust of a DC-8 or 707 … and a Convair.

They speak a language unknown to Webster. They discuss ALPA, EPR's, fans, mach and bogie swivels. And, strangely, such things as bugs, thumpers, crickets, and CATs, but they are inclined to change the subject when the uninitiated approach.

They have tasted the characteristic loneliness of the sky, and occasionally the adrenaline of danger. They respect the unseen thing called turbulence; they know what it means to fight for self-control, to discipline one's senses.

They buy life insurance, but make no concession to the possibility of complete disaster for they have uncommon faith in themselves and what they are doing.

They concede that the glamour is gone from flying. They deny that a man is through at sixty. They know that tomorrow, or the following night, something will come along that they have never met before; they know that flying requires perseverance. They know that they must practice, lest they retrograde.

They realize why some wit once quipped: "Flying is year after year of monotony punctuated by seconds of stark terror."

As a group, they defy mortality tables, yet approach semi-annual physical examinations with trepidation. They are individualistic, yet bonded together. They are family men, yet rated poor marriage bets. They are reputedly overpaid, yet entrusted with equipment worth millions. And entrusted with lives, countless lives.

At times they are reverent: They have watched the Pacific sky turn purple at dusk. They know the twinkling, jeweled beauty of Los Angeles at night; they have seen snow up on the Rockies. They remember the vast unending mat of green Amazon jungle, the twisting silver road that is the father of Waters, an ice cream cone called Fujiyama. And the hump of Africa. They have watched a satellite streak across a starry sky, seen the clear, deep blue of the stratosphere, felt the incalculable force of the heavens.

They have marveled at sun-streaked evenings, dappled earth, velvet night; spun silver clouds, sculptured cumulus: God's weather. They have viewed the Northern Lights, a wilderness of sky, a pilot's halo, a bomber's moon, horizontal rain, contrails and St Elmo's Fire.

Only a pilot experiences all these. It is their world.

Charles Wilder (1966 – 1982
) served in Flight Operations.

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