Budd Davisson, September, 1993

Through Another's Eyes

I couldn't tell for sure what it was I was hearing through the headset. The hot ICS was picking up every sound being made in the front seat, but from my vantage point, or non-vantage point, as the case may be, in the back hole of the Pitts I couldn't see the face, so, even though she was thoroughly briefed, I couldn't tell whether she was freaking out good or bad.

My Arizona redhead was, however, definitely freaking out.

"Oh-my-God-what-are-you-doing-to-me-where's-the-ground-what's-next-will-we-go-up-or-down-can we...!"

Then, as the nose came back up out of the loop into level flight, there was a brief silence and I held my breath, . Then it started again.

"I-love-it-I-love-it-do-it-again-can-we-fly-upside-down-will-it-do-a-roll-I-love-it-can-I-do-it-can it..." and on and on. I began to worry that she wasn't going to take a breath.

And there it was again! I found myself looking at something I knew so well it was part of my soul, but I was seeing it again for the first time through a new set of eyes. So, I looked around and realized how much I truly loved what I was doing. Sometimes I forget how much I love it.

That's been happening a lot lately.

The last year or so has been an interesting one, if nothing else because I've been treated to an enthusiastic re-introduction to much of my life. I've been part of a process where, in the course of introducing someone to something new, I'm being forced to step back and take a new look at it myself.

I've been forced to realize that I've been taking many of the things I love for granted.

As a long time, fairly active akro instructor, I think I'm better than most in not taking that particular activity for granted, because almost every time I take a student up for his first hour, they come down with their ears perched on either end of a painfully wide grin.

I have to admit, however, I don't ever remember the rampant and verbose enthusiasm aerobatics uncorked in my Arizona redhead. But, then, that's the way she is about everything new.

That's why taking her to Oshkosh turned out to be so much fun.

After 27 years of faithful attendance, I got to see Oshkosh from an entirely different point of view. I was treated to a non-stop "I can't believe what I'm seeing", high-profile, wildly enthusiastic ride through a week of wildly enjoyable experiences from the point of view of a first timer.

Yeah, first timers are right! Oshkosh is a real mind blower!

Although I pride myself as being fairly observant, I'm guilty of being so close to the Oshkosh Experience, that once there I operate by habit: I know where all the exhibits are. I know exactly where to find the warbirds and antiques. I even know which set of port-o-potties is likely to have the shortest lines. After all those years, you develop a special set of survival skills.

The first-time Oshkosh Flight Line Warrior, however, walks though the gate and suffers near-terminal sensory overload. To top it off, they are surrounded by so much "stuff" they can see only what they can see. From ground level all that can be seen is a bewildering array of "something." It may be airplanes that blur into a colored visual fabric that fades into the distance. It may be rows of fly market tents, forum tents, etc, etc.

The first timer's Oshkosh world is limited to that which defines the visual limits of where they are standing and, since, they don't yet know the lay of the land, they have no idea which way to turn because they don't know what lies beyond their visual horizon.

I try to remember the first time I came out of the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City. Fresh out of Nebraska and Oklahoma, I was steamrollered by the enormity of it all. Something in me shrank a little, as if I was a mouse in the big city. And I didn't have the slightest idea how to tackle the immense job of seeing it all, much less understanding it.

That's the way Oshkosh hits folks the first time out.

To a lot of us, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca-north is actually a visit to a small city populated entirely by friends and littered with some of the neatest stuff known to mankind. It is a place with personality that is full of personalities, mechanical and human. It is also a place most of us know so well, it fits like a well worn pair of boots. I, unfortunately, had begun to take it for granted.

This year was different. Radically different. It was as if my antennae were up with the gain cranked all the way to the stop. Everything, from the way the grass smelled to the bark of the Mustangs, was stronger and tasted sweeter.

An interesting thing happens, when you point out something like an airplane to someone else and try to explain its place in history or describe its mechanical attitude about life. In telling the tale, many thoughts and memories that have been laying around at the bottom of your mental stack for years are uncovered again and bringing them to the top makes the tale feel fresh. Without expecting it, you feel a new found enthusiasm yourself.

This year Oshkosh was strong on people-history. Everywhere you looked were names and faces that were the foundation for aviation. We were, for instance, standing around watching five (count'em, five!) P-47s rumble across airshow center, when I glanced down at the name tag of the gray haired gentleman standing next to me. It read Francis Grabeski! I looked around and found the names around me included Hub Zemke, Robert S. Johnson, Gerald Johnson and others that were legends during the formative years of my aeronautical youth. Zemke's Wolfpack! In a flash, I had goose bumps from head to toe and I held out my goose fleshed forearm to The Redhead to illustrate the impact the folks around us had on me.

But, the names and faces meant nothing to her, so I had to tell the tales and paint a word-picture of heroes and airplanes, deeds and deaths and try to give her some understanding of why goose bumps were the uniform of the day. In so doing, I re-focused some memories and thoughts that had gone fuzzy. Some of my aviation roots found new life in the telling.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd find myself standing next to people like that. Never!

In the act of introducing an individual to a new facet of life, the benefits are often not so much that we bring someone face to face with new people and experiences, but that we rediscover those people and experiences ourselves. The old adage that "we learn best what we seek to teach" is true and might be modified to read "we appreciate best what we strive to give to others."

Aviation seems to be one of those gifts we all want to give to others and, in so doing, we learn to appreciate it even more ourselves.