Recently, I was given the opportunity to finally learn to fly a real airplane. After years of collaborating with pilot review teams to develop cockpits, I was finally going to learn firsthand what it was like to truly use my product. Up until this point, I had spent countless hours “flying” our test cockpits in the simulators. But the many pilots on my test teams insisted over and over that I could not know what it was truly like, until I had truly flown.
They were right. And so, after finally learning to fly for real, I realized that there were some important life lessons that went along with the flying lessons. At least, this is what the experience taught me:
- You can control a simulator with millions of lines of code and control laws and rules and logic statements. You don't control real flight: you surrender to the laws of nature (gravity, Bernoulli's principle, physics) and the airplane flies itself. If you hit turbulence, have a cross-wind, get out of trim, or slightly "off-course" you inspect, adapt, and correct. If you over-correct, you inspect, adapt, and correct back in the other direction. You are never "perfectly" on... except for a teeny instant when you are going past 'perfect' on your way out to the other side of the pendulum. And that's okay.
- When you sit in a simulator, you feel NOTHING. This is because there is nothing at stake. If you crash, the dome goes black and the technicians will tease and harass you a bit. But you have never left safe, secure, terra firma, and somewhere, your brain knows that. When you sit in a real plane, you feel the wind, the surge of forces against the controls, the pressure of the stick and the rudders; you feel the force of gravity as you lift off... you feel twice the force of gravity as you make a steep 60-degree angle turn and it pins you back into your seat. You feel a thrill of watching the altimeter zip past 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and you look down at tiny little roads and trucks and houses and lakes. You feel a twinge of excitement and panic as you realize you are high up in the air. You feel your "oh s***" moments when you realize you didn't pull your nose up correctly and you just lost 200 feet of altitude. You FEEL it ALL. You are taking a risk to live a reality, and somewhere, your brain knows that.
- You cannot make an airplane take off. You just put all of the elements into place and it will take off when it's ready. You point it into the wind if you can... you give it all the speed you can... you pull back and give it all the lift vector that you can... and then you surrender and let the natural laws do what they will do. You cannot make a simulator take off. No matter what you do, you will just be sitting there, in a dome, strapped into a seat that a lot of people spent a lot of time and a lot of money to make *look* just like you are flying. But no matter what, you will always just be sitting there.
- Flying an airplane is ALL IN. From the second you strap into the seat... you push all your chips to the middle and play hard with all you've got. If you're not prepared to do that, you don't get in at all. There is no halfway. There is no control-P to pause it. There is no withholding a portion; keeping one leg on the ground; or being wishy-washy about your commitment. There is certainly no "pretending to fly" or "wearing a mask" of flight. It is undeniably, unshakably R.E.A.L.
- Off the ground is off the ground. If you're going to fly, you may as well soar all the way to the stratosphere (well, allowing for equipment limits, but you know what I mean). It is no scarier or riskier to fly at 5,000 feet than at 1,000... so why needlessly limit yourself? Fly higher!!!
- Most of the joy of flight is paying attention to what is going on outside the airplane... not what's going on inside. So... break away from the control panel as often as you can, learn to *feel* your way so you don't have to constantly monitor your instruments and gages -- and look out the window and enjoy the amazing view!
That's it. Sometimes, especially when you are smack-dab in the thick of the most difficult thing you've ever done, such as divorce, it's good to take some time out and soar. I hope you did today. =============================================