Science and Freedom

Post submitted by Tally One Community Member: CessnaPilot

“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life?  Aviation combined all the elements I loved. There was science in each curve of an airfoil, in each angle between strut and wire, in the gap of a spark plug or the color of the exhaust flame. There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by beauty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of wind.

“I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics of the ground; one that was richer because of its very association with the element of danger they dreaded, because it was freer of the earth to which they were bound. In flying, I tasted a wine of the gods of which they could know nothing. Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their ant-like days? I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime.”  – Charles Lindbergh

Sometime in your flying career you’re going to do this, you’ll probably be by yourself and you’ve been flying long enough to have the chance to fly for fun.  I mean for the deep kind of fun that flying brings a deep kind of satisfaction to your soul, a satisfaction that is spiritual, poetic like Lindbergh.  The engine will be making the noise it usually does, but you won’t hear it.  Yes, it will still be there, but it will be a time of quiet.

I marvel at the videos that I’ve seen, especially of high performance jets.  Those jets that we general aviation pilots, who would give anything they have, just to fly one for a few minutes.  The chance to suit up in all that gear, speed genes, the helmet, and the oxygen mask, would be a thrill in itself.   The kind of jets at air shows that thunder and shake the ground and shake one deep inside their chest, and roar past us with incredible power that boggles the mind.  How can those engines develop so much amazing power, how can they create so much amazing flame and heat, without melting?  Just the savage roar of sound waves should vibrate the engines apart.  The sound alone should destroy them.  Yet I see the videos where these men who use all that power to chase the gods up in the endless sky, with all that power, making all the horrific noise, sit in there cockpit hearing almost nothing more than a whisper.  The only thing they hear is the hushed report of wind gliding past their canopy and the sound of the fan from their climate control.

And, there is that kind of silence that we measly piston pilots only get when the soul is quiet and the mind drifts to one thought.  I’m one of the luckiest guys around.  I’ve flown biplanes and I’ve been able to do it in a way that I was able to share that kind of flying joy with others.  (In a way I feel a little for the gladiators that have to fly alone.  Discounting the intent for which their machines were built, it is so much better to share that kind of beauty with others so they too can see, feel, and hear the spirituality.)  And flying a biplane is loud.  Those nine cylinders of that big black radial engine fire, one at a time, each one sending a belch of fire and cannon noise nine times as the prop turns in a circle, just one time, nine explosions for one revolution of a prop. There is no barrier of plexiglas between your ears and the engine.

If you really want to know what I’m talking about, get the movie “The Spirit of St. Louis.”  In that movie, a real life aviation hero, Jimmy Stewart, who had to fight to get the role, plays Charles Lindbergh.  In that movie he sits behind a Wright J-5C “super inspected” engine rated at 223 HP at 1800 RPM, a large nine cylinder round engine.  And, he thinks of times past, yet the sound of that engine exploding fuel in each cylinder dies out of ear shot when those memories flood his mind.  He even, at one time, counts the number of explosions it will take to get him to his prize.

“Sixteenth hours, seventeen hundred miles back into yesterday, back to New York.  Here’s there’s nothing, nothing but the sound of the engine.  It’s turning sixteen hundred and twenty-five revolutions a minute.  That’s more than eight hundred explosions every minute, in every cylinder.  How many explosions in nine cylinders?   That’s seven thousand a minute.  That’s almost half a million an hour. Twenty hours to go.  Ten million explosions.  Ten million blasts of white hot flame against red hot metal before I land.  How can an engine stand such torture?  What if a cylinder cracks, valve stuck, bearing burned out?”

You too will someday be flying and fail to hear your engine though its turning like it should.  The sound of your engine will disappear, just like it disappears for our warriors in their jets, and just as it has for me.  For there is that one time I will remember more than any other.  It was getting close to twilight.  The shadows on the ground were getting long, and the blue flame from the exhaust, that can’t be seen in the brightness of the daytime, was visible.  The eyes took in the gold of the sun getting ready to set low in the sky, and the pink cotton candy clouds that only show themselves that time of day.  And, the sound of those explosions disappeared.  All was silent as my mind was thinking only one thought, a spiritual thought, a thought that only God could hear…….

“T h i s  I s  W h e r e  I  B e l o n g.”