The Ultimate Window Seat?
Ultimately, what surrounds the seat doesn't matter. It's the view - and what you learn while sitting in it - that counts.
Paging through my logbooks and taking a trip down memory airway the other day, what I saw astonished me. Could it be true that my first logbook entry date was October 9, 1976, 12,862.3 flight hours ago? That's a lot of flying time to live through, learn from, and tell about.
Much of that time was logged as a flight instructor, and some of it still is.
After accumulating a few hundred hours in general aviation aircraft, some of my students focus their energy on the quest for what they believe is the holiest of window seats. That seat assignment is, of course , "0-A" - the seat in front of the front row, left side, that gives its occupant a panoramic view. Instead of a tray table, it has a full suite of advanced avionics and a fistful of throttles tied to monster engines.
But when you win that coveted seat, have you really found aviation's Grail? For those of you on the quest for the Grail, you may be disappointed because some pilots never achieve their goal, and some of those who do find it different from what they expected. For those of you who fly for the sake of flying, who embrace airplanes because they're fun to fly, you will be delighted regardless of what surrounds the left seat.
As ancient voyagers on planet Earth, and after several million years of dreaming, we can celebrate the fact that we finally figured out a way to fly - accomplishing this feat only a little less than a century ago - and therefore should feel privileged to be a part of the fraternity of aviators.
Many summers ago the mystery of what it means to be an aviator presented itself to a teenager who was finally able to put his dreams of flight into motion. That teenager was me, sitting in the left seat of a Cessna 150 with one of the wise old 30,000-hour sages of aviation, Jim Batterman. Somehow I sensed he knew something I didn't know about what it means to be an aviator. While I was wondering why in the world anybody would want to learn how to fly this Wright-like 100-hp machine, and not the clearly superior Learjet instead, he gently reminded me that I needed to learn how to become one with this airplane first, certainly as much aircraft as any true aviator needed.
I reluctantly resigned my thoughts of jumping right into the Lear. Then, during an early solo flight, a sense of awe at what was happening gripped me. Through a demonstration of unparalleled trust, my instructor had allowed me - a mere student pilot building solo flight time - to mingle among the professionals in the sky around me. I knew the professionals were out there because I heard them, and I saw them, too.
"North Central Four-Five-Eight, roger, cleared for takeoff." Hey, I thought, that looks like the big red tail of a Northwest Orient 727 there on final approach. "Bonanza Three-Two-Quebec, caution wake turbulence, cleared to land behind a Northwest seven-two-seven." I cleared my throat and then responded to an ATC query as to whether I had the Beechcraft in sight: "Roger, Cessna Six-Three-Three, traffic in sight."
I also wondered what those other pilots were thinking, knowing that I was sharing the same airspace with them. It occurred to me that this was an awesome responsibility. That my fellow aviators were counting on my professionalism and expertise (little as there was at the time) to make their flights as safe as possible. It was at this point that the seed was firmly planted, not to mention the landing. In a priceless moment of clear understanding, it occurred to me that whenever we fly, we all share a common bond, and we are all sharing the gift that is aviation.
Now let's go back to our aviation roots to unearth the reason we fly in the first place. We seek the special freedom that only flying can provide, to emulate our natural feathered friends of the sky, to break the bonds of gravity. This feeling satisfies a yearning to be free to leave this place and to go as we will. We as aviators discover that to be able to fly is the only element needed to witness some truly remarkable things - and witness them from a unique perspective that we can share with others; but which, only we ourselves experience.
I don't believe that people who start flying do so because they expect financial rewards in the future. This may be a consequence of their involvement in aviation, but not the cause. True, if we choose to fly for a living we have to make ends meet, and this is a difficult task for many aviators, especially flight instructors. But flight instructors must realize that teaching is their best opportunity to expand their base of aviation knowledge and learn the art of flying.
If you really want to master a subject you must learn how to teach it. The learning, of course, never ends. Not every aviator will make a living as a pilot, but thank goodness we can make a living doing something else and still experience the joy of flight.
Occasionally I hear professional aviators declare that it really doesn't matter what type of aircraft they fly, just so they are flying. I believe this attitude is what separates aviators from pilots. It follows that all aviators are pilots, but not all pilots are aviators. Does it matter from which machine we view the spectacles of flight? From a wide variety of window seats I've witnessed many inspirational sunrises, unforgettable sunsets, thousands of stars on a thousand starry nights, and have gently tip-toed between sleeping giants with anvil-shaped heads, hoping not to wake them.
Not one of these wondrous sights looked any better from a larger or smaller airplane. Now, when I reminisce about my early solo days, I wonder if those airline crews could possibly have been having as much fun as I. Could they have been secretly coveting my seat as they heard me on the radio? I surely doubted that, but at the time I secretly wished I was sitting in their seat.
Then, through another small miracle of aviation destiny (or just plain old-fashioned will and determination) I found myself in "their" seat - the "ultimate window seat" - as captain of a DC-9. It sure seemed like the ultimate window seat - until I caught myself gawking at a freshly painted Cessna 150 on the ramp. "Wouldn't it be great to be in the left seat of that thing!" Pure, simple flight, I thought. "I'll bet the only thing better than that would be sitting in an ultralight, flying low and slow and open all around. I must fly one of those someday!"
It's funny how modern ultralights appear to mimic the Wright Flyer. Maybe after a century of flight technology we've come full circle, only to realize that what Orville and Wilbur gave us was the only airplane we really needed after all. Now I realize why so many airline pilots buy their own single-engine airplanes and fly them on their days off. They all come with the ultimate window seat installed as standard equipment.
So you see, regardless of what you're now flying - you already have the ultimate window seat. It's the seat where you are flying right now. Try to remember this during all your flying days. Depending on your aerial quest, other seats may follow - in a glider, a Pterodactyl ultralight, a Cessna 152, a Boeing 747, the Space Shuttle, an Aztec, an F-14 Tomcat, a Sikorsky helicopter, or a blimp. Ultimately, what surrounds the seat doesn't matter. It's the view - and what you learn while sitting in it - that counts.