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Miso Aviator

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I’m sure every profession has its way of distinguishing the amateurs from the professionals. In aviation, the lowest rung of the ladder is “airplane driver.” I heard it more than once in my training, typically when I did something wrong: “You don’t want to be a driver, do you?”


The next higher level is the pilot, the one who has mastered the technical aspect of flying, the one who finally makes the shift from the two dimensional steering of the driver to the three dimensional flying of the pilot. But there is yet another level, one reserved for the masters of flight. These are the aviators.


They are, of course, somewhat artificial and arbitrary distinctions. Yet, just as Justice Potter said about the difference between pornography and art, “I know it when I see it.”


The aviation writer Budd Davisson describes the difference between a mere pilot and an aviator this way: “The difference is that an aviator is the airplane, and they move as one, while the pilot is simply manipulating the proper controls at the appropriate time and sees the airplane as a machine that he forces to do his bidding.”


I have flown with a lot of pilots, and the best pilot with whom I have ever flown was my first instructor, Floyd Jennings. I witnessed Floyd’s flying on several occasions, but the most memorable was on my second flight as a student. The first and only time I had ever felt nauseous in a small airplane was on that flight.


The nausea, which seemed to come from out of nowhere, was so bad that I knew I wouldn’t make it down to the ground without creating an embarrassing mess in the cockpit. I was sweating profusely and my face was pale as I was trying to hold back. I finally told Floyd that I couldn’t hold back any longer. He glanced over and saw the sweat on my face and my normally pink Polish skin shift to a whiter shale of pale.


We were about halfway through the downwind leg of the pattern in Santa Paula, which means we were flying parallel to the runway, but pointed opposite to the direction needed to land. Floyd took control of the airplane. In what appeared to be a single movement, he looked from side to side, cut the power to idle, pointed the nose down, swooped down and around, and in a matter of mere seconds, the airplane kissed the ground sweetly and almost imperceptibly.


Whenever Floyd took control of the airplane, I had the distinct feeling that he and the metal bird were one. Though he was a grizzled, curmudgeonly character, his flying was seamless, effortless, like wearing a comfortable shirt. When he moved the airplane moved, when he blinked the airplane blinked. He met Budd Davisson’s definition of aviator to a tee. This was sadly in contrast to my flying, in which I often felt that I was wrestling with a metal beast.


I am currently working on a collection of poems I am calling “One With the Miso.” It’s just a whimsical, silly title, but I like it because on the one hand, it sounds meaningless, but on the other hand, it expresses something bigger. We can eat or drink the miso (that is, be a pilot), or we can become one with it. Whatever our behavior, be it simply brushing our teeth, drinking soup or flying an airplane, we can get to the point where our sense of self as separate from the universe disappears, and the thing that we do and thing that we are becomes one. http://cftblog.com



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