A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

November 2014 


“This was history in the making.  Today I was going flying”.

      You never know when you’re making history.   It happens when you do or say something that is remembered as significant by someone else.  Children have the amazing ability which we all wish we had, to see, hear and understand not just the important lessons in life, but much of what we adults miss.  And they remember.  To a child, history is what we feed them with our words and our actions.  That history is what establishes their values and their sense of what’s right and wrong.  We never know until it’s too late when we’ve influenced a child, in a positive or a negative way.

      A man named Dave Harrington made history in my books.  Back when I was about 22 and acutely interested in flying, Dave was a pilot in the small town where I lived.   I recall he had a heart as big as his physical size.  He was always sincerely friendly,  welcoming anyone who showed up at the little grass strip beside his house.  His wife, Mary, was just as pleasant. 

      Dave had a plane, the make and model I don’t recall, if I even knew it at the time.  It had low wings and tandem seating.  Back then, I was only dreaming of flying with my own license, and before Cessna and Piper and Champ were common words in my vocabulary.   

      One day when I was hanging out at his strip, Dave asked me if I’d like to go for a ride.  In a nanosecond, my response was “I sure would”, or something to that effect.  This was history in the making!  I was going flying.

      Sitting behind a man of Dave’s stature didn’t allow for much forward visibility.  His big shoulders completely blocked my forward view, but I didn’t care.  Here I was, trusting my life to this man.  On a first flight, all the bad things we hear about airplanes flash through our minds.  We relive scenes from movies showing them falling from the sky, their velocity and high pitched whine increasing all the way down, until crashing into the ground, instantly killing all aboard in the ensuing explosion. 

      I distinctly remember some of those thoughts, but I pushed them from my mind.  This was something I’d dreamed of for a long time.  When Dave asked if I’d like to go upside down, I replied “Sure”!  In fact, that frightened me somewhat, but I trusted him.  After all, he was a pilot and he must know what he’s doing.  So I sat back and enjoyed a few quick barrel rolls. 

      To quote a worn out cliché, “all too soon the ride was over”.  And quite frankly, I don’t remember anything else about that day, what I said to Dave, what I dreamed that night, or even enough about my feelings to put them into words here.   But that was definitely a high point, and history had been made!

        Fast forward about 25 or 30 years.  With more than a few hours of flight time in my log book and a commercial license in my wallet, the opportunity for a similar incident came up again one day.  This time however, I would be a different player.  Being between airplanes after selling out of a partnership, I was buying block time on 2 Cherokees for my recreational flying.  Standing outside the fence at Boundary Bay airport was a young boy about 10 years old, with his dad.  They were there when I arrived and began my preflight walk-around.  They inched closer to my tie-down spot and were eventually within speaking distance.  It wasn’t hard to imagine the thoughts in that young fellow’s mind, as he gazed at the airplanes tied in neat rows, and paid particular attention to what I was doing. 

      It seemed right for me to suggest they come along for a ride.  But many years had passed since my adventure with Dave.  And too many things have changed in aviation, not the least of which is “liability”.  Right seat insurance, the World Trade Center, airport security, rental aircraft agreements, risks of all kinds have complicated something that was once a fun, free wheeling, wonderful pastime we enjoyed, without all the concerns of today.

      To deny the young fellow the opportunity for his first flight would risk setting him up for more than just a disappointing afternoon.  Historically, aviators have enjoyed a special respect from non pilots, particularly young children.  The wonder of it is that we haven’t really done anything personally to deserve that respect and admiration.  It is there merely because we are pilots. Step out of a plane and you’re someone immediately held in high regard.  Step out of most any other vehicle, and people walk right by without a second thought.

       It would be a terrible disservice to all pilots and show real disrespect to ignore people who go out on a limb and show their interest and admiration.  The least a pilot can do is initiate a friendly conversation with those obviously interested in our trade.  Taken a large step forward, offering an empty seat would be a full acknowledgement of their interest.

      For the kid and his dad, it was their lucky day.  With Dad in the back and junior in the right seat propped up on a cushion so he could reach the controls, they were absolutely thrilled, and enjoyed every second of their adventure.  As for me, the short flight brought back memories and emotions akin to what a parent feels when taking his child to see the fireworks for the first time.  We experience the thrill again, just as if it were a first time for us.  And we make a little more history.

      Security and liability concerns are very real.  But those thoughts were pushed aside for a short time on that afternoon.  It’s been said that rules are made to be broken.  I heard it put another way once.  That is “sometimes you have to do what’s right”.  

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