Flying & Fearlessness

In which I muse on why I fly and my apparant lack of fear when flying.


Someday someone is going to ask me why I fly and while it’s tempting to answer “Well, why not?”, somehow I get the feeling that’s not the kind of answer they’d be looking for.

Why do I fly? It seems like a simple question but it’s actually pretty involved when you start thinking about it.

I stated in my first post on this blog that my desire to learn to fly came from flying commercially on holidays when I was about 6 years old. For some reason, which I still can’t explain, I’ve got this nutty phobia of oxygen masks. I don’t know where it came from or why but I have this weird fear of them. So I’ve always just assumed that my desire to learn to fly came from me working out that flying in a light aircraft is a way to fly without the ‘threat’ of cabin depressurization. And I’m sure that is a contributing factor, but I don’t think it’s the answer to the question.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always…known…that one day I would get a pilots licence. But you wouldn’t have known that unless I told you. I wasn’t the kind who went to airshows, I didn’t have posters of aircraft on my walls, I never had model aeroplanes – basically, I was the total opposite of one of those children who are aircraft nuts. I had no idea what flying really involved, no idea about aircraft, no idea about the science behind flying, I just knew that one day I wanted to do it.

Even now I’ve started on this dream, I still can’t really specify what it is that has made me addicted to flying. What is it that keeps me going back and spending ridiculous amounts of money and makes me think of it so often when I’m on the ground?

Maybe if they ever analysed and compared the brains of pilots and non-pilots they’d find some difference. There must be something that makes some people have that inner desire to just get off the ground and fly (and, no, I don’t think ‘insanity’ is the answer to that question!).

Perhaps it isn’t those who do want to fly and those who don’t, maybe it’s more there’s those who know they want to fly and try and those who don’t realise they want to fly until they try it and they never try it. Who knows.

So, after all this thinking, I still don’t know why I fly. Saying ‘because it’s freedom’ seems too dramatic, saying ‘because it’s fun’ seems too simplified. Maybe it’s something that isn’t meant to be quantified, perhaps it’s just something inside that’s there but can’t be put into words. Or perhaps other pilots know why they fly and it’s just me who can’t outline it.

The second part of this post is entitled “fearlessness”. I’m discovering that I don’t feel fear at all when I fly. I’ve heard other pilots say that they feel a healthy dose of fear everytime they fly and they’re always thankful to get back on the ground in one piece. I don’t feel that.

I’m not saying that I don’t realise the risks involved with flying, of course I do. I realise that there is a risk everytime I take off that something could happen, but I don’t think about that. I’m a safe pilot, don’t get me wrong. I take all the precautions to ensure that the flight is safe for me and everyone around me, but I still don’t go to the airport thinking ‘Well, I could die today’ or anything, the thought doesn’t even cross my mind.

When I’m up there, I’m not sitting there thinking about the risk. I am, of course, taking safety precuations like monitoring the engine and the aircraft response, watching for traffic etc – i.e. being a safe pilot.

When we do things like stalls and wing drops and steep turns, thing which some people may find a little uncomfortable, all I’m thinking is ‘this is fun!’. I get some sort of rush out of it I guess, which is pretty funny considering I’ve never exactly liked rollercoasters or anything like that. It’s mainly this fact which has led me to wonder if I’m slightly unusual in my way of thinking – if I’m ‘fearless’ when it comes to flying. I know that steep turns and stalls are hardly major aerobatics, but still.

It all seems slightly melodramatic now I’ve put it into words in this post, being ‘fearless’ – it makes me sound like some sort of storybook WWII Ace or something. Maybe I’m completely normal, perhaps it’s the ones who are worried about dying every lesson who are unusual, who knows. All I know for sure is how I react when I fly – although this could change when I finally try proper aeros, who knows!

I guess I just tend to approach it with more of a mindset of “Well, I’m going to try my best not to die but if I do, hey, it was a fun way to go!”


14 Responses to Flying & Fearlessness

  1. Flyingninja says:

    Interesting views, but I’m sure you’re not the first to have tried to rationalise why we do what we do.

    Truth is I’m not clear myself, but I do know that more than 30 years ago, I was intrigued by the thought of being a pilot. Meantime, life happened and that thought was pushed way back in the queue of priorities.

    So, here we are. Getting out there and doing it. I think a little fear and respect for what can go wrong is healthy. Too much of that just takes the fun out of flying, doesn’t it??

    Just fly.

  2. Darky says:

    Amazing what procrastinating over exams makes you think about and blog on isn’t it πŸ˜›

    Good response though, I like your thoughts πŸ™‚

  3. Corey says:

    Speaking of ruminations, I was exactly the same as a kid (watched movies with planes and knew I’d fly one day but never got into posters, models, etc.), love dark sarcasm and ninjas. The ideal pilot = SarcasticNinjaPilot.

    Love that ‘circuits’ is the biggest tag in the cloud. Ohhhh, yes…… Would be worrisome if ‘take off’ was bigger than ‘landings’.

    Alright, fine, a serious comment. I was fearless until my first emergency and I don’t think I’m alone. Agree with Ninja above that a healthy amount of fear is a good thing (not that I’m suggesting Darky’s approach is unhealthy).

    Reminds me of a saying I heard a while back; “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots.”

  4. Darky says:

    I tried to emphasise during my musings that I’m not an unsafe idiot hoon pilot – I try to be as safe as I can, I don’t want to die and I don’t want anything to happen to anyone else. I do realise the dangers associated with flying (I’d be a delusional idiot if I didn’t) I just don’t really think about that when I’m up there doing it.

    Still laughing at the rest of your comments πŸ™‚

  5. Flyingninja says:

    Hey guys,

    Check out this clip (Reno Air Race Unlimited 1991 Lancair Prop Failure) on You Tube.

    There’s probably a moment of increased heart palpitations but then you can hear/sense the training kick in. Listen to the landing gear being lowered seconds into the incident and the lowering of the nose to control airspeed. No panic, just getting on with the job.

    It’s not bravado. Just good common sense and safe flying kicking in.

    Fly safe, fly happy everyone.


  6. Corey says:

    Yah, exactly. It’s called training for a reason. Repetition works. Get up there as often as you can!

    Oh yeah, I read a book called ‘Redefining Airmanship’ a couple of months back. In it, the author describes an essential part of arimanship being the ability to critically analyse each flight, see where you screwed up, where you could have done it better, etc. Best approach is to put it in writing, apparently. Reckon a blog qualifies so nice work to the pair of ya!

    That video = brown pants. That and slick work by the aviator.

  7. Corey says:

    Bucket list is a cool idea too.


  8. Darky says:

    I agree that putting it in writing makes me think it through more. I replay the lesson in my mind and work out what I did wrong and what I was thinking at the time – really makes me assess what I’m doing and think about how I can fix it.

    Training is the important word, it’s what gets you to respond automatically, like you’re already responding before you’ve even really thought about it. A couple of weeks ago I was doing some solo circuits and had to do a couple of go arounds. After the lesson one of the FIs commented how he was impressed how I did the go around – moving to the side of the runway so I could see the other traffic on the runway etc. I responded “I was just doing as I’ve been taught” – which is true, I just automatically responded in the way I’d been taught to – my training kicked in πŸ™‚ That’s what training is, practicing things over and over until you just know what to do when you need to do it. Haven’t had a proper emergency yet (hopefully not for a while yet!) but if/when I do I hope I respond calmly and remember the simulated emergencies I’ve done and just do the same…

    Why don’t you make a bucket list? I’ve hardly got a copyright on the idea or anything! πŸ˜› I just had a mind full of dreams/plans and wanted to get them down somewhere!

  9. Zurtri says:

    Interestingly most pilots are strongly Kinesthetic.

    I believe this is because we need to “feel” what the plane is doing.

  10. BlackRod says:

    “Kinesthetic”? I had to look that one up! Zurtri could possibly be be an educationalist?

    Anyhow, it is very clear in my mind why I fly. As long as I can remember, I have loved to be in high places – Mountains, lookouts, top of cliffs, etc. I love the way the world looks from on high. And I like to enjoy the journey and get to the destination quickly.

    Fearless? Definitely not. I’ve ridden my motorbike on a race track at 257 km/h and still haven’t gone that fast in a light plane – yet. I’ve water skied at ridiculous speeds, driven trucks, fast cars and they all cause me a level of alarm. What isn’t clear to me is why it took me so long to realise I should just go out and do it!

    There is a bio thing too which says that that part of your brain doesn’t develop until you are in your mid-twenties.

    In any case Darky, you clearly take a very mature approach to your flying and are very likely, on that basis, to one day be an old, moderately bold pilot. Enjoy the ride!

    • Darky says:

      aha! There’s the reason – that part of my brain hasn’t developed yet! πŸ˜€

      (I had to google Kinesthetic too btw :P)

  11. GraemeK says:

    Really interesting stuff Darky!! It’s a complex thing, this flying …..

    Me – I have a pathological fear of heights – get me above the first floor in a building and I’m a trembling mess. But that instant the wheels leave the runway? Magic!

    And looking almost vertically down at the threshold through your side window from 500 feet while you’re madly sideslipping it in? Fun beyond your wildest dreams?

    So fear is a strange, selective thing.

    I was interested in your comments re thoughts on driving to the airport. I must admit the first few times I did think β€˜Well, I could die today’ – same when preflighting ‘This bastard could kill me’.

    Now? Not really, although I still approach the preflight very diligently, as if it might kill me. Healthy motivation, I reckon, but certainly not fear.

    Thanks for raising the topic!

  12. Darky says:

    Interesting about the fear of heights Graeme. Someone I know who works as a pilot has a bit of a fear of heights, it’s interesting to see how many people still fly despite that fear. I have no fear of heights at all, but a fear of falling – I don’t mind tall buildings or anything, but put me on a ladder or something I think I can fall off and I hang on for dear life.

    I agree, sideslips are FANTASTIC fun πŸ˜€

  13. Tomo says:

    I always am a little nervous when I unlock the door’s and start pre-flighting, don’t know why exactly, probably a responsibility thing… you know, “I’m the one driving this thing and have to bring my passenger and aircraft back safely!”

    Nothing gets your attention more than when the engines dies just after take off! Just plan to expect it might happen, and you’ll go through it like a pro… It gets the blood pressure up a bit nonetheless!

    We take risks all the time, It’s about risk management, or planning. The most dangerous job once planned out, and risk assessment and plan is made, is so much safer than if you just jumped in a did it. My work is dangerous, working on machines weighing huge weights, I pulled a wheel off a dump truck the other day, the wheel it self is taller than me, and weighs a few ton. If it falls on you, you’d be dead. It’s a matter of risk assessment and planning to make it a safe environment. It makes all the difference.

    I’m getting carried away again!

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