Time to Spare
Finding good times in bad luck
“THERE ARE TWO MAIN RULES you have to live by in aviation.”
I was standing inside a hangar at some long-forgotten airport,
many years ago, listening to a friend hold forth to a group of
young aviation aficionados. My mind ran through a quick list of
possibilities. Respect the laws of physics and the limitations of your
machine? Don’t stall and don’t ever stall? Don’t hit the ground?
Speed costs money?
“The first,” he said, “is that all plans are subject to change, at all
times, with very little notice.” He paused. “And the second is that if
you never count on anything, you’ll never be disappointed.”
It’s true, of course, cynical as that might sound. Life in general
may have no guarantees, but that overall level of uncertainty gets
One of our close encounters with bison at Yellowstone National Park.
ratcheted up to another whole level when
airplanes are involved. “Time to spare, go by
air” and all that.
It’s always perplexed me, in fact, that
pilots—who tend to be certified control
freaks, according to people who’ve
studied our personalities—are drawn to an
activity that involves so many components
we are powerless to control. Weather.
Or, as in the case of the Cheetah in
Montana…all of those things together.
Flying VFR across the country from west
to east can be a lovely experience, as long
as you catch the waves right. If you catch a
wave of nice, high pressure weather, you can
ride it all the way east, as long as you keep
pace with it. But one little glitch or delay
can get you out of the groove, as surfers
would say. At which point your options are
to stubbornly and determinedly push ahead
through the rough and tumble of the next
frontal system, or step aside and wait for the
next smooth wave to come along.
If lives were at stake, or if I was flying for
a living, I’d soldier through. But I fly for fun.
And I’ve tried the “soldier through” approach
often enough to learn that whatever else that
kind of flying is, it’s decidedly not fun. So I’m
much more inclined to approach my trips
with a generous helping of patience, these
days. Which is to say…I now know far more
about Billings, Montana, than I ever thought