Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

Far West of Brooklyn

Go west young man, or at least go fly something new.

Students, in my humble opinion, are the very best teachers. I learn so much from them about flying and life in general, that I sometimes think I should be paying them for the privilege of bashing around the pattern with them. Case in point: a recent student showed me how easy it is to misjudge life simply because your exposure to it is limited to a small area.

This student was a really interesting young man of 28. He lives in Brooklyn, but he immigrated from his native Russia (Ukraine, actually) only four years ago. Let's clarify this picture: he came here with nothing and spoke only a little English. Then four years later, he's not only flying, but he's bought into a Pitts Special partnership and I'm checking him out. This is very cool! The American Dream personified.

He was a bright kid who mixed incredible tenacity and a will-to-learn with a certain amount of wide-eyed innocence. I got a huge kick out of his reactions to new experiences and sights. For instance, he couldn't get over the 20 foot Saquaro cactus in my front yard. 'Guess they don't have those in Brooklyn.

Anyway, one day while we were talking about how it felt to immigrate to a new country he said, "I feel as if American's aren't very open and don't try to welcome you in."

I, of course, was surprised and just a little defensive because I've always thought we were a pretty warm people. So I asked him where he had traveled in the US and he said, "Oh, I've been to New Jersey."

Lemme see: he lives in Brooklyn and has traveled to Jersey. Nothing against either of those locales, but using any single spot in the US to judge the rest of American is wrong. Flat wrong! Seward, Nebraska, my hometown isn't typical. Los Angeles isn't typical. Seattle isn't typical. There is no one place in America that accurately portrays the rest of the country.

Visiting only one city and using that as your barometer to measure America is a lot like flying only one airplane, a Cessna 172 for instance, and using that as your yardstick to judge the rest of aviation. Oh, wait! I'm sorry. That IS what a lot of people do, isn't it.

Not to point fingers, but isn't flying just one airplane and performing just one type of mission, e.g. short cross countries, a little like living in Brooklyn and assuming you have enough information to know whether you'd like Arizona? Or California? Or Oregon?

At the beginning of an aviation career, when all of flight is still fresh and exciting, it really isn't necessary to know anything other than your trusty trainer. The old 172 (or whatever) is just fine. But, sooner or later, you get to know the neighborhood represented by the 172 so well that the been-there-done-that syndrome sets in. If allowed to progress far enough, this malady causes pilots to look outside of aviation for new territory to conquor. Maybe they get into boats. Or sports cars. They are looking for something new to keep their interest up. This is sad because that's exactly like living in Brooklyn and deciding to go to France rather than investigating the rest of the US first.

Just as the US is incredibly varied, so is aviation. There is nothing wrong with a 172, but for most people that's their hometown, that's where they came from, and they need to travel beyond its borders to know what the rest of the country is all about. An easy journey of discovery might be to trundle out to a glider port for a quick sail plane ride. Chances are, you'll find gliding to be one of those not-so-far destinations that you might find pleasing enough to want to visit again.

Or maybe you call up your local aerobatic guys and see about an akro lesson. You don't have to commit to hours and hours of gut wrenching, teeth-grinding competition stuff. Just do a loop and roll or two and see if it doesn't change your view of aviation in general. Suddenly it looks and feels much larger. Of course, while you're doing the akro thing, you'll probably get your first ride in a taildragger too. Yet another destination to be re-visited.

Aviation is such a monsterous country, that you can spend a lifetime exploring and never experience it all. America's pretty much that way. In an effort to expand my student's horizons we visited friends in a tiny town up in the desert who live in an airport community. Then we spent time with a friend who is a world class historian, western leather worker and all around character (he does a great Porky Pig). My student just sat there with a big grin and sucked it all in.

Later, I saw him standing by the side of the small town's only street as he turned slowly in a circle trying to take everything in. The wind was blowing and little dust devils played with the weeds and sand at the edge of the curbless road. There wasn't a cloud in a sky that was so clear and blue that it looked phony. I asked him what he was thinking and he said, "It is all so big. And different. And the people are so nice. I am suffering sensory overload." His big grin finished off the sentence.

Spend a little time flying something that's far removed from your hometown airplane and see if you don't wind up with a face-splitting grin yourself.