A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

October 2005

Wisdom from the Future

The day was better than perfect. It was one Mother Nature saves up to bestow on all her subjects when they've been particularly good to each other. Sometimes we do deserve it. Sunshine, a warm gentle temperature, the perfumed scent of wild flowers drifting in a refreshing breeze.

I was fortunate to be free and sitting on a rocky beach on Gabriola Island that flawless spring day. Tiny waves stroked the shore following the occasional passing of a boat. Over the course of the afternoon, a few small airplanes droned by on their west-northwest headings for destinations up Vancouver Island. A 172 from the Vancouver area flew westbound, altering course at Pourlier Pass and was soon overhead, probably enroute to a hundred dollar hamburger joint. That's what I'd be doing if I were flying that day!

Using my daypack for a pillow, it seemed the right thing to do was have a nap. In short order, a great sense of relaxation flooded through me, and all was right with the world.

The next thing I remember was the distinctive sound of a radio controlled airplane. It seemed strange that someone would be flying one so close to the water. The "pilot" was standing a short distance down the beach, totally concentrating, enjoying his flight. It was a terrific aerobatic display performed by an obviously seasoned flyer.

The little airplane finally landed on an impossibly short, flat stretch of sandstone. Always curious about anything that flies, I approached the owner and as expected he was genuinely pleased and open to discussion. Generally, the fellows who fly RC models are predictable. He fit the mold. Late sixties, retired, relaxed, sincere, optimistic and had definite ideas on how the government shoul d and should not be involved in aviation. His story too was familiar. A flying career that began with a PPL when he was 20 and seeking a future with the airlines. Those dreams were crushed with the birth of his first child, when money was needed more than ideals. \

Flying was relegated to the back burner, his medical lapsed, and for the next 18 years, life was back to "normal". But the flame never died. Anyone who has the dream of flying knows that feeling. It smolders, then flares up when an airshow comes to town, or when the wife decides it's vacation time in Hawaii. Even boarding that Airbus fans the flames and they lick at his heart.

Life carried on, the children became independent, even left home, for a while at least. The mortgage was paid off, and things settled down. The security of a savings account and promise of a pension were comforting, but the restlessness of the mid life crisis was upon him now. That's the point in time that signals some men to buy the motorcycle, the sports car, or some other toy to caress an ego.

And so it came to pass that this mans flying career resumed. Armed with a renewed medical, he was back in the air as a private pilot. He worked hard and obtained a commercial license, even did a bit of flying as a jump pilot, a tow pilot, a charter pilot and an instructor. Not much money, but a whole lot more fun than he'd had in his entire life.

Flying was good, but he was haunted by his health. The doctor wasn't optimistic when there were changes in his ECG. Transport Canada was even harder on him, and soon his medical was invalidated. His time in the pilot's seat was over. Ironically, this man was healthy enough to drive a car, but he was considered unfit to fly an airplane. But those are the rules. The next step was obvious. Radio controlled models.

Along with age comes wisdom. The man on the beach flying the RC airplane shared his wisdom with me on that gentle spring day. After the initial criticisms of government re gulations, he seemed to soften. He spoke of caring for yourself, both physically and emotionally, of being aware of the stress life heaps on us all, and of managing it. " Stay on course with your values" he said. " Remember the Golden Rule and maintain the courage to change what you can, while accepting what you can't. Develop the wisdom to know the difference.

It's the only way to stay sane, he reasoned. And above all, live with integrity, the conviction to do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Eventually, he seemed to have said his piece. He picked up his model airplane and walked away, leaving me alone on the beach. I found myself sitting on a rock, looking for the flat sandstone he'd used for his runway. It was gone, perhaps covered by the incoming tide. A float plane was departing Silva Bay, the sound thundering off the rock faces of a few closeby, small islands. It became apparent to me that I'd been sleeping, and I wondered, could the encounter have been a dream? There was something strangely familiar about him. Some 20 years my senior, he vaguely resembled my father, or was it my grandfather? In many ways, he reminded me of myself! Had I actually been privileged to see into the future, catching a glimpse of myself in 20 years? Except for the part about the heart trouble, the history fit. Did this come from someone much wiser, or from within? One thing is certain, I've never found that sandstone runway again.

The encounter that day, real or imagined, has encouraged me in a couple of ways. I will work at staying physically healthy and emotionally happy, so that I may fly as long as possible. And if my health fails, RC models may be in my future too.

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