Builders, Flyers…and Dreamers, by Andrew J. Walter


Andrew Walter  started flying sailplanes at a young   age and is now also flying powered planes. He is planning a career in aviation and and is a member of both Friends of Aviation and the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association). Andrew kindly gave us his permission to republish the below article that he wrote for his local EAA Chapter in Dayton Ohio. Those of us who fly can easily relate to what he is writing about and those who don’t will get a real good idea of what the world of an aviator is all about after reading this.


Builders, Flyers…and Dreamers, by: Andrew J. Walter, EAA Chapter 1252 

We all know our motto “Builders, Flyers and Dreamers”, but do any of us really know what it means? We as a chapter have the perfect combination of all of these. It is these qualities that make up our chapter that give us all, endless opportunities to do what we want to do. It is these qualities that make us the family that we are. But what makes up the qualities that so few realize exist? 

First it’s the builders. It’s the builders that say, “I want to build a plane”. But why go through the trouble of building a plane? It’s not something you do because you’re bored. It’s something you do, because it’s something that inspires you. It’s something that at the end of the project, you get a satisfaction that is like no other. For the first time you lift your machine off the ground, you feel like you rise above all others. You feel like this because it was you that said “forget building a car, or a boat…I’m going to do what so few have done. I’m going to build a plane”. And it was you that spent the time to make your creation come to life. But most importantly of all, it was you that learned more about airplanes and more about your greatest love…flying.

But the flyers are a different story. It is the fliers who say “I want to escape gravity. I want to go into a different world, the world that exists above the clouds”. And it is the flyers that inspire people to look at aviation in a different way. It’s the flyers who can’t get enough of flying and do it, not to show off, but because it is our passion. It is the flyers like Paul who look at a kid like Garret and say “I bet I can make a difference, and change this kid’s life by taking him…flying”.  But what is it about the magic of flight that has the power to give people a different lease on life? Maybe it’s the beauty of being above the clouds on a rainy day. Maybe it’s just being up there looking down on the world, rising above your troubles and more importantly, rising above yourself and accomplishing your goals. And you will always know a flyer, for they will always be staring at the sky.

However there is also another group in our family that gaze skywards, who are always fantasizing about aviation…the dreamers. It is the dreamers who say, “I want to fly higher, farther…faster”. It is the dreamers who say “I want to do the impossible”. It is the dreamer who often gets a lot of, “Oh that’ll never happen you’re a fool”. And it is the dreamer, who proves everyone wrong. It is the dreamers who have made the greatest aircraft of all time. It is the dreamers who have made some of the greatest accomplishments in aviation history. But who are the dreamers? You can’t who they are by looking at them, and you can’t tell by talking to them. This is because we are all dreamers. We all wake up and push the envelope. We do this every time we go flying, because we have all accomplished something that man was not supposed to do. We have accomplished…flight. 

Every single member of our chapter plays a key role in our survival, for without one of these qualities we become just another EAA* chapter. Of all the chapters I have visited, EAA 1252 is maybe the closest as a family of all other chapters out there. We all inspire others, and it is all of us that make little kids look up and say, “Look mommy, there’s an airplane up in the sky!”

*EAA – Experimental Aircraft Association was founded in 1953 by a group of airplane enthusiasts mostly combined of airplane builders, although anyone with an aviation interest has always been welcome in the organization. EAA consists of more than 1000 local EAA chapters around the world with people in different areas getting together sharing their enthusiasm for aviation. You can find out more about EAA at  The author of this article is a member of Chapter 1252 of the EAA.


Entering the Pattern Part 3 by Nathan Carriker

Whoever said, “It’s Never as Good as the First Time,”
Did Something Wrong on his Second

The first time I trained to fly internationally, I was a bloody stroke risk.

We’ve all seen this little “stress inventory,” whereby you score points for any major changes or developments in your life, and as your score climbs, you’re considered increasingly stressed and need to take increasingly sharp corrective actions to avoid health problems.


Well, I know I started to take it sometime in 1999 but gave up midway, since my calculator, along with most of my other worldly possessions, was in storage after I’d vacated, without assistance, my second-story condominium.

I was probably on a flight to or from my base in Miami, my new wife’s old place in Seattle, our new home in Missouri, my storage bin in San Diego, or our training hotel in Dallas, where I’d spent four of the past eight months learning two different jobs on five different models of two very different airplanes operating over two separate route systems.

No, wait, maybe it was—-no, I couldn’t have done it while actually driving the wife’s U-Haul from Seattle, or one junky airport car to, or another back from, Miami, now could I? No, no…

Maybe it was on one of the two-day breaks I had during that first, involuntary trip through 757/767 International training, although I know it couldn’t have been the one we used to find and contract to buy our first house, or the one we used to take possession, or the one in which we got the stuff I’d stored back under my own roof for the first time in six months.

Perhaps it was during the shortened version of our honeymoon—that being the week (less three non-revenue travel days) for which my company so graciously moved my (did I say “involuntary” yet?) training schedule so we could “frolic” in Hawaii (while trying not to think about eight weeks in the company’s most-often-failed program while still on new-hire probation)—-even though my fiancé and I already got to attend that wedding or whatever thing we had going on right before. My chief pilot made it clear that it was quite a bit more than the least they could do, but since the six-week working version on Miami’s South Beach I’d already secured with a deposit was sooo not about to happen, the company still wanted to show me just what family means around there.
I may have even taken the inventory after my training was over and I had yet another sweet-smelling temporary license in my wallet—this one with “B757/767” typed beneath the “AIRLINE TRANSPORT PILOT” I’d still hadn’t stopped taking out just to stare at since I’d earned the “Ph.D of flying.”

Perhaps it was at some other corrupt memory address created in the next nine months I spent commuting two legs to Miami and New York to sit around on reserve, ready to fill-in as relief pilot on all-night transoceanic and trans-Amazon flights for pilots hired at least ten years before me. When I wasn’t learning my new job, or paying off a sleep debt with payday-loan interest rates, I was learning about being a husband, stepdad, father, and home- and aircraft-owner.

Yet, I just can’t recall, for some reason, when or where I was when I took that stress inventory. I don’t recall if any of the warning signs it listed included sleeping with your tongue trapped between clenched teeth, but I do recall awakening more than one morning with the sides of mine looking (and feeling) like someone had pulled it out and tenderized it overnight. Can’t quite figure why.

In any case, that was Then, and this is Now. Well, not any more. Now this is Now. No, wait…

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d ever come back to the 767 fleet. The difference in pay didn’t seem to justify the long hours and large workload of unfamiliar duties. But when negotiations on our multi-billions-of-dollars-off, post-9/11 contract (and the $300M management bonus programs it engendered) entered their third year, I began to look for a way to get through the next few years of undeclared impasse without waking up with my tongue black and blue. I noticed that my seniority, and thus the number of days I’d have to spend away from home to bring bacon back, would be the same if I were flying internationally from Miami as it was flying domestically from Chicago. The only difference would be having to take two flights to get to work versus one, but offset by rarely having to show up before 6 p.m.—-for about a 15% pay increase. We pilot types call that a no-brainer.

So I went back to the “schoolhouse,” wiped out the cobwebs, and relearned what I surely once knew so long ago. Big shock—-for some reason, this time it was ever so much easier. The (same) wife and kids (plus one more) were tucked snugly into our same house, and everything that required my personal oversight in life now fits easily onto a thumb drive. Oh, and this time I could, and did, share how I really felt a few times during training, with almost no fear of winding up flying that proverbial cargo plane full of rubber dog poop out of Hong Kong.
In the decade I spent flying domestically, I’d already learned how to fly a jet (really fast, thanks), how autothrottles work (to confuse pilots), and that, to Boeing, the Flight Management System


(FMS) isn’t just a navigation, performance, and datalink communication system. It’s God. Actually, wait, I take that back. A check of my manual here finds that God is, in fact, an uplinking VNAV function accessible through the second page of the ACARS submenu. If you’ve performed a valid preflight alignment, that is.

More importantly, I learned that, at least at this major airline, I shan’t modify checklist challenges or responses like “Navigation Displays” or “Set and checked” to be spoken as “Nav Displays” or “Checked and Set,” lest our obsessively standardized little world crumble down around, er, from beneath us, and I be flogged as a heretic.

Since the last time I went through 767 training, I’d learned well that when almost anything unusual happens, even if I think I fully understand what to do, I shan’t touch anything without specific checklist guidance—unless doing so falls under the amorphic heading of “correcting the ‘obvious’,” in which case you better do it.

Critiquing any number of unwelcome, variable, micromanagerially imposed “techcedures” can make a sim session degrade into a debate tournament at the Tower of Babel. “Go along to get along,” and “cooperate to graduate” are mantras employed by legions of pilot virtuosos to deny their gift and just play as directed, however hackneyed the piece or tone-deaf the conductor may be.

Best of all, I’d already learned that to try to impress anyone would be utterly in vain. Apparently, praising copilots only invites trouble, so self-flaggelation is at all times the appropriate behavior, in response to performances both middling and superior. We may or may not be our own worst critics, but we damned surely have to be our own biggest fans.



“Does anyone know where the love of God goes,

when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

-Gordon Lightfoot,

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

With simulator training over, all that remained to be considered a fully-requalified International 767 pilot was to take a trip with an instructor pilot and do nothing that scared him. Having never been to Paris before, that was where it was ordained I go. Darn the luck!

 Having gotten quite attached to that wife and those kids, I sure saw things rather differently out there over the North Atlantic last week. The first time I heard the joke about what ETOPS, the acronym for Extended Twin-engine Overwater operations, “really” stands for (Engines Turn Or People Swim) when I was a new husband ten years ago, it just seemed much so much funnier than it was as I tried to catch twenty winks or so on my break.

Greenland’s fjords didn’t used to sound that scary. The Azores used to be just over there to the right, Keflavik a skosh closer on the left. The MTBF, Mean Time Between Failures, for jet engines on an ETOPS-approved maintenance program is such a really ridiculously long time, a three-way mid-air collision with two flying saucers invading Earth is a statistically larger risk than suffering a mechanically-induced dual engine failure.

Smoke in the cockpit? You never used to hear of that happening (SwissAir 111 had just crashed and was then still under investigation). Fire in the cargo hold? Nah—give me something realistic to worry about (Valujet 592, same thing)—now where’s Betty with our hot towels, anyway? 

Tonight, at our second ETP, Equal-Time-Point, where our choices of emergency diversion airports switched from Goose Bay, Labrador or Keflavik, Iceland, both more than two hours away, to Lajes Field in the Azores or Shannon, Ireland, also more than two hours distant, it occurred to me as I fought to sleep through as much of my two-hour rest break as possible, just how quickly those two hours could flash by were I were summoned to the cockpit to help work a complex problem—and just how endless a simple, merciless one could make them seem to three “superhuman” pilots and our two-hundred fragile charges.

Sixty-six years ago this April Fool’s Day, my Uncle and his crew lost an engine to flak over their secondary target, far more than a mere two hours from the safety of Dover’s Cliffs. To survive, they had to not only keep their wits about them despite how badly damaged their plane and their bodies were, but also to fight off hypoxia, hypothermia, and any number of German fighters thrilled to use their crippled ship for gunnery practice. They almost made it. Their luck ran out over Reims.

Nothing of the sort occurred to us, however, and not long after I began drooling on my pillow in my comfy chair, beneath my soft, warm blanket, in my air-conditioned, pressurized cabin, dawn seeped through the cracks around my window shade, telling me, “get back to work, Monsieur. Et bienvenue au France.”

The flying Carrikers were back in Europe’s sky.

Entering the Pattern, Part 2 “Upward Mobility”, by Nathan Carriker

Upward Mobility



I took this cherished picture, which I call “Upward Mobility,” with my cell phone (yes, while stationary) from an O’Hare taxiway a few summers ago after a squall line had just passed. I use it for my background on my Twitter profile page.

We were about number eighty for takeoff, and this 757 blasted off right in front of us, with that moon and clouds kissing softly in the afterglow of a fantastic storm, in the background. It was a rich metaphor for how I was feeling about my career in its sixth post-9/11 year: stuck. Idle. Utterly stranded with no credible hope, but with a front-row view of the rest of the world moving on with their lives as if nothing had happened. In that same frame of mind, I later wrote “The Terrible Teens” and “First Officer, Second Fiddle” about our career’s stagnation.

Then out of nowhere, just before Christmas last year, I got a call from my company, asking if I’d be “willing” to come to an International 767 class on short notice. I finally understood what Einstein was talking about: the speed of light really didn’t seem all that fast as my brain dispatched, then recalled, a “Hell, yes!” then actually allowed my mouth to speak the far more considered, cool-airline-pilot-like, “Well, I’ve got a trip on Christmas Day, but I don’t guess I’d be legal to do that and the class, so, yeah, I guess that’d be ok.” Another call from my union’s Professional Standards committee averted.

I reported for class after one of the happiest Christmases ever and was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually had a little spare time to write my previous post about AQP (Advanced Qualification Program) training, Simulating Excellence. The hardest part was being the only pilot in the training center who was moving up; that, and watching the news about how many people are suffering through job losses and bad economic times, which, of course, those of us in the airline business have known nothing different from for nearly a decade now.


Entering the Pattern, by Nathan Carriker

 With profuse thanks to my new friends at, I’m all a-twitter (groan) to introduce myself to those who are, like me:

Actually, calling me a Friend of Aviation is like calling Saddam Hussein’s son Uday a Friend of Hedonism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If I could only live and breathe flying, I’d be deprived. I live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, snort it, shoot it, deal it, ogle it, fondle it; if I could get enough of it together in one place I’d stop, drop, and roll around in it then walk around making people smell me.

I could brag that this lusty affair began in my childhood, but I honestly believe it goes far deeper. When my dad told me about my favorite uncle, whom I’ve never met—at least not in the workaday temporal sense—something went “CLICK” inside me and never stopped. B-24 flight engineer/turret gunner Sergeant Raymond “Rudy” Carriker was killed in action April 1, 1944.




Uncle Rudy wanted to be a pilot in the worst way, but lacked the education for an officer’s commission, so he got as close as he could, and the only man to survive their last mission remembered him as a tireless, paternal, tinkering custodian of their plane, Barfly. His baby brother, my dad, also wanted to be a pilot but, like so many have, he waited until the pressure built to an intolerable level before he ignored the bills and learned to fly anyway at age forty-five. “Carriker” is a mangled version of the medieval German title/name “Karcher,” which was, in those days, a guy who drove carts from village to village. So, while my life may not advance my family’s standing in the world one iota, no one can say I didn’t heed the call. Every time I raise my palm and call, “gear up,” I can almost hear Uncle Rudy, and so many Karchers before him cheer, “Go, kid.”

The crowd’s really been going wild this year. In what seems to be a never-ending pattern of me going “zig” when my company goes “zag,” I was just awarded a bid to return to flying the 757/767 internationally after a decade in its narrow-body domestic route system. Now, flying’s flying, don’t get me wrong; but ten years of layovers in places like El Paso, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Raleigh, well, you get the idea. Let’s just say I got a lot of writing done…a LOT of writing. About 200,000 words’ worth, to tell the truth.

I had been forced to fly in the international system for less than a year when I was very new, back in what airline people now call “the good old days” before 9/11. I know it sounds crazy on several levels that flying a 767 internationally could be involuntary, but most pilots avoid bidding “up” until they’re senior enough to have a schedule they can live with, and I was not yet off new-hire probation when they ran out of heroes, I mean volunteers, that year. In other words, the needs of the company had to prevail, and they were (almost) sure I’d do just fine. If I didn’t, they’d be ok; they’d just find someone else who would. No pressure.

I’d been hired as a flight engineer on the 727,  so that first time through 767 training, I hadn’t touched a control yoke in nearly a year. That last one was attached to bellcranks and pushrods with which I manually moved controls to an airplane that carried 30 people in only moderate discomfort for up to 90 minutes at 300 miles per hour.

I awoke from what seemed like another of my bizarre dreams to find myself over the Amazon jungle in a 200-ton behemoth with power-everything, auto-pilots and -throttles, and a cockpit full of CRTs I could double dribble in. It was great, but it didn’t take much coffee to stay eyes-bugged-out alert all night long, and being a “junior puke” on reserve kept me from my new family far too much, so I squeaked like a wheel and squealed like a pig until They finally let me step down a few pegs on that scary-tall ladder.

Just last month, after only ten years of domestic flying, two weeks of ground school, two weeks of simulator training (the subject of an earlier blog post) and a couple of days of international ground school, it was finally time for my Operational Experience, or OE, trip with an instructor pilot. Time to stop trying to drink from a fire hydrant and just step headlong into the stream.

This is the part where I think everyone expects me to digress into a long, for some tedious travelogue of what we did on that trip to Paris and the others since, and how and why we did them, but that’s where I’m hoping to carve my own little niche within the pack (ok, the den) of aviation writers.

My literary wings can’t get enough exercise just flapping about my trips from perch to perch, but neither is my artistic wingspan big enough to effortlessly toy with the zephyrs and thermals all day like the seagulls we all so admire. I’d like to consider myself more like, let’s say, a falcon: I fly for a purpose: I fly to survive. That said, I still enjoy the hell out of it and work at it every second to get as good as I can be, to live as well as I can live, by my craft.

My glare belies my pleasure, and my grin belies my purpose, so I write—and hope you’ll understand.

Enamored with aviation from his first memories, Nathan Carriker was taught to fly by his father, a professional educator and private pilot, from age eight.  He became a private pilot in high school, then worked as a flight instructor while still a student at his alma mater, the University of Central Missouri.  Upon graduation with a B.S. in Aviation Technology in 1990, he was hired by regional airline Air Midwest and spent the next three years as a First Officer on Swearingen Metroliner II and Beechcraft 1900C turboprop airliners.  He then followed another childhood dream to California, moving there to fly for SkyWest Airlines in 1994. An avid pilot even in his free time, Nathan was nearly killed in a light airplane accident later that year, sustaining a spinal cord injury that he was told would surely paralyze him for life.  He was treated at Loma Linda University Medical Center and returned to flying at SkyWest a year to the day later. 

Now a pilot in his tenth year with a major airline, Carriker is an ecstatically married father and stepfather of three.  When not flying or writing, he
enjoys a boat with his family, pampering his “pet” machines, and growing and enjoying his collections of music, rum, tequila, and cigars.                                           

Friends of Aviation are very pleased to introduce Nathan Carriker as an additional aviation writer for our blog.

A Piece of the Pilot, by Rob Bach

Captain Rob Bach

People often ask me what it is like being an airline pilot.
I have no adequate answer really…I supposed if I asked a philosopher the same question about her job, I would get about as much an answer as I could understand.
The problem I have is that my description will begin in a reverent and joyous depiction but fall into a slow spiral through whistful nostalgia, whining discouragement, and a final full-fledged spinning rant into why airline management are greedy vampires.  I end up sounding like one of the petulant priviledged who knows he’s overpaid but not overpaid enough!

Yet, here I am 23 years in and looking ahead to 17 more.  And, yes in fact, I love my job. And no, I don’t think pilots are paid enough.

 So, to avoid bias, what I will do for you now is open a different door. Let’s look not at the big picture of an airline pilot’s life, but of a fraction of a second of a random slice out of a random flight.

 (This thought occurred to me while pre-flighting my Steed: an 80 ton beauty ready to breath fire from her twin underslung turbofans should I ask it of her.

To me, it was -20 degrees outside: cold enough, I thought, to make Time itself slow to a shuffle and warm its hands in a Quantum muffler. To her it was a balmy +5: windchill she does not feel and she spends most of her time in flight where it is a bracing -54C.)

Rob Bach_Turbo Fan_Airliner

 So let’s pick a piece of time out of this next flight and look at it closely through the mind of Me, your Captain for the Moment.

 We sit, mid day, westbound against the wind (100 knots or so),  370 knots over a frozen Iowa landscape and 38,000 feet of cold clear air between my seat and miles of cornfields below. The stubble of the stalks prick up through the thin cover of snow making the entire state look tired and in need of a shave.

 Just behind me to the east, the Mississippi River is a blood-black ribbon:  a scar left over from a glacier 10,000 years gone.  North is Minnesota and its thousands of lakes where thousands more fisherman wait for the freeze to do its magic. They will build entire towns over the water filled with hope and St Pauli Girl beer.

 South is a hard line of snow-free ground, brown and dormant, sleeping and dreaming of wheat and heat and combines and purpose.

 This is a magic chair I sit in. The higher I fly, the further back Time opens itself to me. I see the patterns geologic history has left in the rills and valleys, the steady rise of the land as we head west toward the Continental Divide. I can almost feel the pressures at work shaping it still, see the silent erosion wind and water work on the land.

Rob Bach captures the viewpoint of an Airline Captain

 A few minutes from now, I’ll see the tops of the Rockies rise on the horizon. But that is a future thought. Now I am monitoring the little jet we’re overtaking just below us bound for Denver and the big jet coming up from behind us heading to Maui. There are four other symbols on Screen 4 of six each marking the progress of other fast movers. These six fly in loose formation with us and will slowly diverge over the next hour or so.

 San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City wait to receive them in turn. Each of these cities know how to do that: their histories were built into the modern age by air mail pioneers and fledgling airline companies of the 30’s: Pickwick, West Coast Air Transport,  Maddux, Gilpin all gone. But the cities don’t mind and they wait for us just the same. These towns have been witness to the slow rise of the mind-stumping complexity that is the air traffic control system.

We are heading for Los Angeles still three hours away. A lot of things have to happen in a more or less  orderly fashion for us to arrive there safely, efficiently, comfortably, and timely.

 I have had to learn about all those things since my first solo flight in an old  Aeronca L3 30-some years ago. The complexity of the machine I’m flying demands it, the environment I’m flying through requires it. Years of sitting in various aircraft building experience, a slew of tests, multiple emergencies, hours and hours and hours of schooling.

Boeing 737 from an Airline Captain's Perspective

During this career, I’ve spent a third of my life asleep, another third on the road, and a third at home mostly aware of what’s going on around me. The first day after a trip, I shed my uniform, my duty, my command. It takes a few days to fully re-integrate back into normalcy. If I manage more than four days in a row at home, I start to feel like I’m missing the game above my head. I am benched, beached, out of the game. I am an alien in my own home. It’s very hard on spouses to live with half a person.

I dream of difficulty, of the challenge of the job. I practice emergencies in my head. I study other pilot’s mistakes, run scenarios, what-ifs. The extra practice has come in handy 14 times in the last 15,000 hours.

And, this instant, over the little town of Chariton, Iowa, is the culmination of all that work.

My goal is to use my experience to avoid having to use my skill.

I want to give my passengers a smooth un-eventful flight but know that no matter how perfectly I fly, I will be judged by the landing.

Realize that some of us land this beast only nine times a month. Some of those landings come after four hours of doing essentially nothing but monitoring systems. The first and last 40 minutes of every flight are the busy times. All that cruising is done with an auto-pilot: a fairly essential piece of equipment when you realize we fly a 500 mph see-saw with 400lbs of people and service carts moving forward and aft along the aisles. One second of inattention allows for a 200 foot altitude deviation and a black mark on our records.

That concentration over a four hour flight is tough to muster after a three-day tour around the time zones sleeping in strange beds, using little soaps, eating irregular food at irregular hours, while trying to keep in touch with our families. But, I am whining now.

Keep in mind when you next fly that what you are doing is fairly miraculous. That some very creative people designed a plane for some very talented people to build that other hard working people maintain for some very highly trained people to fly is just this side of amazing.

Landscape from an Airliner_Rob Bach_Friends of Aviation

So what is it like to be an airline pilot?

Take a moment out of your own life and look at the beauty even in the frustration, the boredom buried in potential excitement, the reward you reap from long study, the contentment from knowing you’ve done what you do better than anyone else, and the pride in yourself for never quitting along the path to that which you most wish to do.

Add  to that: daily geography lessons, an uncomfortable chair, a glorious view out your office window, self-doubt in the face of thunderstorms, fatigue, the joy that comes with remembering the names of all the waitresses in every Denny’s between Chicago and Seattle, missing half of your children’s lives, celebrating Christmas on December 16th because you work every holiday for the first half of your career, and knowing  you’ve helped a thousand people get to their families in time for their own celebrations.

Snow Landscape from the perspective of an Airline Captain in a Boeing 737, Rob Bach

There is constant preparation for annual schooling, twice a year physical exams…wait…there: whining.

It sounds like complaint and maybe it’s simply an unavoidable side affect of the task of telling the tale.

We may be on duty 14 hours a day, three or four days in a row…but I’m only paid for those hours spent in actual flight. Today, I got out of bed at 2:30 am and will fly for 7 hours 50 minutes to finish in another time zone by dinner. Total elapsed time from rising to rest: 16 hours.

For this sequence of three days at work, I’ll get paid 18 hours flight time. We are limited by regulation and fatigue.

Remember the last time you flew on the airlines? That tiredness you felt was from stress, dehydration, and airport food. Multiply that times three per day, three per week and you might get the sense of the conditioning required to perform at a high level year after year.

It is a challenging and rewarding career requiring some level of egoism, narcissism, self-confidence…and humility. When an accident happens, every pilot feels it like Obi Wan feels disturbances in the Force.  We have all lost good friends in this business and it’s hard to keep the Dark Side at bay.

Airplanes are amazing things, true, but I think it more incredible that pilots can manage the fluidness of time, space, and the variables of wind and weather and traffic, and birds as well as we do.

Art of Nature_Rob Bach_Friends of Aviation

Back to Now: the point in spacetime I sit stretches out in four dimensions and I am aware of them all. I calculate mass, speed, acceleration, energy, time remaining, weather. I monitor the machine itself, my emotional and physical state of being and that of those I work with.

Having given you a few hints as to what it’s like to be a pilot for hire, you might think it simply isn’t worth it. I mean, it costs a lot to train yourself up to standard and then spend the next 10 years just trying to get a flying job that pays enough to survive!

Why would I recommend this career to anyone else? If you would fly for free, then come fly with me. The money isn’t so good, but I have 700 little bottles of shampoo towards my retirement and for some reason, that makes me feel good.

The Art of Flying, by Rob Bach


First, thanks so much for the excellent responses. They are thoughtful, encouraging, and insightful.

To read words from intelligent minds gives me hope that this sampling is a model for Humans as a whole.

Now, onward:

When people ask, “Hey, this Flying thing…what’s so special about it?” , words tumble out of my brain in a rush to be heard and in doing so, logjam as I stand open-mouthed-silent. Untangling the beautiful mess into something intelligible takes a heartbeat or two.

Where do I start? This is a huge question that has been answered by so many more eloquent than I from every possible point of view through time, I feel like I should simply hand over a card with a list of author’s names on it, smile and turn away.

I’ll try here, though, just for you.

Let me break Flight down into categories:

Science: from the physics involved to the exploration of the feel of the forces on our Selves when we fly to all that is encompassed by meteorology, navigation, geology, geography, the beauty of the air traffic control system, the fluid that is the atmosphere, engineering, the mathematics we use to help us fly efficiently…those of us that love the interaction of all these disciplines get that much more out of a simple jaunt around the patch of sky over our little airports. If we are ignorant of Science, we miss the subtle underpinning of the workings of the world and our part in it.

Not to worry, though. I’m not saying we don’t enjoy our flight for other reasons like;

Art: These machines have inherent in them the lovely forms that allow function. The sweep of a wing, the curve of a rudder, the symmetry in a well-flown formation, the magic of the deep purple of the terminator as night chases day around us. We fly high and see patterns etched in the earth below us, the roil of the tapestry in the clouds above us, the colors steeped in the very air about us.


This chair in the air is an intimate place from which to watch uninterrupted beauty: the Art of the World.

History: I enjoy most those airplanes designed in the 1920s through 1950s. There was care in the creation of these machines hand-built to give the flyers of the day a passport to a country restless just above the heads of the  timid among them. We can feel that as we fly, open cockpit, noise and wind tearing at our attention, infusing our senses with the smell of …well everything. We are uninsulated from our environment yet connected to those hands that welded steel tube or glued spruce into intricate forms for flight. We can feel them there with us though they themselves may be long gone.

These old wings carried heroes across oceans and dark continents, carried villains in black and white across movie screens. They carried an entire populations’ hopes and dreams around the world with them as the pilots in command tested themselves on the grand stage that is the atmosphere.

These old wings are in themselves time machines. We fly down the Mississippi River on a hazy summer day behind a round engine that first fired in 1939 and we cannot find evidence that it is not 1940. We fly a 1929 Travel Air at corn tassel height in Iowa and cannot be convinced the Great American Flying Circus (established 1922) is not waiting for us just over the slight rise ahead. History is stitched into the wings themselves and they invite us to become a part of it.

Sport: My challenge, every flight , is to fly it perfectly. From engine start to shutdown, I seek the smoothest take-off, the most efficient cruise, the most elegant approach, the most beautiful touchdown. When I fly aerobatics, I strive to carve a lovely line with the minimum of brute force. When I soar, I fly an efficient silent ship, thermal to thermal or ridgeline to mountain wave trying to best my time aloft each flight. My longest so far, 5hrs 35 mins. Until last week, it was my longest flight in any aircraft. Now, a transcontinental flight in a 737 holds that mark. I will try again.

The sport of flying is about the personal challenge of one’s Self to do more than just stay alive…it is the about the picking up of the gauntlet to Be Alive!

Photo: Courtesy of Rob Bach

Life: I think of the Aviation World as a small one. When I leave the Earth, I am no longer connected to Anyone…but feel as though I am connected to Everyone.

The kid that waves huge waves at me when I circle slowly over her head. She is my friend now. I’ve nudged her life in a very small way in a subtly new direction.

The passenger I flew over glass-smooth water, our wings lit from below by sunset. She never said a word until 12 years later in a postcard thanking me for showing her what her career should be. She is now an airline Captain and in the crazy machinations this career can throw at you…she is senior to me.


Flying has a way of touching Life. There is something in it for everyone that walks the planet with us when we choose to walk. When we choose to fly, we weave patterns irresistible to Fate whose hands then drop quiet suggestion for any witness in reach.

I could go on and on, I suppose, but I want to leave something undiscovered for You to be surprised by, to savor and to share.


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Entire Collection

On Space & Time, by Rob Bach

Rob Bach - Self Portrait

Though our friend Rob Bach needs no introduction really, my wife Dharma and I felt compelled to write a few words; he is one of those larger than life characters, one of those people you consider yourself lucky to count as a friend. And why wouldn’t he be? if you consider his lineage, he is the son of acclaimed writer Richard Bach and his mother is the amazing editor and author Bette Fineman Bach.  So as you might imagine, the material coming from such a luminous constellation is nothing short of rivetting. We enjoy Rob’s work in so many levels. One of the most profound ways in which his words inspire us is the level of humanity with which he writes. Though they capture the adventure in a rich way, they are real, they transcend the mere adventure and reach into the core of the human soul. They really touch the heart and leave you not just entertained, but a changed person. He is a permanent member of our Board of Advisors and it is an honor to have him be our first contributing writer. I hope you all enjoy his work as much as we do. Without further ado, here is Rob Bach:

ON SPACE & TIME, by Rob Bach

So, a moment ago, there was a happily empty space here. It was perfect in its nothingness, calm, cold, content. This absence of things was absolute and expected nothing other than to go merrily along devoid of chaos.

Introduce TIME and entropy started immediately. The Big Bang was like that: once TIME BECAME it screwed up all that perfect peace with STUFF BECOMING at a remarkable (and suddenly measurable) rate.

There, then, was the first trade-off of Perfection for Possibility…and so it is here with the seed of an idea Nik (our kind host) had to make a ripple in your experience.


Just you and nobody else.

I’ve never thought that a story I’d care to write would be read by anyone except Mom (who delights in anything I create today as she did when I was in the first grade). Faced with this new opportunity to write once in a while I’ve decided I’ll write just for You. One person (and Mom).

What You get to read from me will be thoughts on flying airplanes, old and new, working as a pilot for a living, building planes for the heck of it, and capturing it all in words and pictures as artfully as I’m able.

Creation is a wonderful thing even though it destroys what came before. Witnessing that life cycle of ideas made manifest is just as amazing as the creation itself. Even though you may not fly or write or craft imagery you can still be a Watcher.

I’ll never pole vault over a bar set six meters over a giant sponge, but I love to watch dedicated people try to do it. Being the audience for excellence is as important as the achievement itself…and so here You are.

Besides flying, I try to photograph airplanes as art. They are a subject worthy of a lifetime effort…my six meter bar. Capturing the essence of a machine that was built by the hands of a hundred people isn’t easy. Most photographers approach the subject like any other machine and take some very pretty pictures in the process. I’d rather make an image that peels away that first impression of the thing and lets You get a sense of the airplane as something other than You thought it was.

Once in a great while, I’ll get pretty close. And now that I know You are here, I’ll try a little harder to understand what I’m doing.

My next entry might be something about the life of the airline pilot or working with dope and fabric or trying to shoot air-to-air in crummy weather. I have no idea. What do You want?

For now then there is just This and so, as in the Beginning when Something came from Nothing, let there be Light:


                                                          Copyright 2009 Rob Bach