Being Fully Engaged
Article appeared in Flying Magazine June/July 2021 by John King
“You don’t know how other people live,” my brother said. He was not technically correct. We do know how other people live; we just don’t live that way.
We were not exactly sure what he meant. There are a lot of things we don’t do like other people do—for instance, we certainly aren’t stylish dressers.
Most notably, since 1969 when Martha and I learned to fly, except for international destinations we have always flown ourselves for travel. We do know that other people travel on the airlines. We just travel differently.
We think flying yourself is traveling in style. That’s because flying yourself is fully engaging—you are participating in life to the fullest. Our current airplane is a jet that requires two pilots. Flying it as a crew and taking turns as husband-and-wife captain and copilot is particularly engaging and rewarding for Martha and me.
We use the word “PLAY” to explain the engagement that flying any airplane provides. (See our article from August 2019 )
Here’s what it means to us:
Passion—pilots have a passion about their flying. People with a passion put more effort into things. They persist longer. And they willingly work their way through difficulties.
Lots of interests—there are a lot of things to study when you learn to fly and the activity exposes you to deeply interesting subjects.
Always learning—flying promotes a habit of learning.
Yet again—pilots repeat all of this because these have become habits.
Being fully engaged like this is, I believe, the ultimate definition of travelling in style. I believe the best answer to my brother is that people who are not so fully engaged don’t understand how we live—the commitment it requires.
Personal flying makes the world accessible. Within a week of getting our pilot certificates Martha and I flew our Cherokee 140 to the Bahamas. At one time we had had a great desire to fly on Frontier Airlines to get to really know the Great American West. The original Frontier airlines had a “Frontier Pass” (all the travel you wanted on their system for 30 days, for one low price) that inflamed our imaginations. Through our own flying we have gotten to know and experience the West far better than we ever could have as passengers on an airline.
Flying your own airplane makes international travel an especially rich experience. We have particularly enjoyed being immersed in the cultures of the host countries. Most notable was a trip through southern Africa arranged by Hanks Aero Adventures. We took the airlines to South Africa and once there rented a Cessna 182 supplied by Hanks. Hanks also provided a portable GPS with the complete route for our photo safari pre-loaded. We went from beautiful lodge to lodge and landed among elephants, giraffes, hippos and other exotic animals who cleared the dirt runways with unhurried leisure. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Our friend Dick Smith, a well-known Australian adventurer, has flown himself around the world five-times. We have been privileged to join Dick on several trips in his Cessna Caravan. One of these trips was from Australia through Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and through the breathtakingly blue and green Indonesian Archipelago back to Northern Australia. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was landing at a remote bush airport and attracting an excited crowd of 50 or so fascinated people packed so tightly around our airplane we couldn’t get our bags out. It is hard to imagine being more engaged with a culture than by flying your own airplane in it. Most recently we participated in a group trip to Turks and Caicos, south of the Bahamas, arranged by Air Journey. They assume the handling of the airplanes through the airports and Customs and Immigration. We had always done this ourselves. Having Air Journey arrange all of this opens up and makes international operations accessible to a lot of pilots and eased our workload considerably. Plus, Air Journey arranged the hotels for the group. It was a great trip to a fabulous facility in a picturesque tropical oceanic location, with great company. This was the first time we had participated in such a group trip with other pilots. It was great fun.
To take full advantage of your ability to travel with an airplane, one more engagement in the form of learning is required. An absolute prerequisite to using your airplane for dependable transportation is to be instrument rated and equipped. When we became instrument rated and equipped, the world became our oyster; that same summer we flew our Piper Comanche from San Diego to Acapulco, Mexico and back and then to Barrow, Alaska and back.
When Martha and I taught ground schools in Alaska, we greatly enjoyed flying seaplanes in and out of the magnificent transportation system that Alaskan rural waterways represent. Seaplanes open up the wilderness to you and get you closer to nature than about anything other than a helicopter.
Besides making you a full participant in life, flying yourself has some practical benefits as well.
Owning and flying an airplane to any destination provides about the ultimate in control and convenience. You can decide to make a trip in the morning, arrive at your departure airport shortly ahead of your planned departure time, do a pre-flight inspection, and depart minutes later the same day. Depending on the capability of your airplane, you can frequently fly directly to your destination (without layovers). You can choose from 5,000 general aviation airports in the US to be close to your destination. You can choose who goes with you and talk business before and after the flight. You can spend more time with your friends and family by taking them with you. Plus, you can travel comfortably with fragile or valuable items such as musical instruments, sports gear and product samples–and bring your pet along, too.
And since you’re the pilot you never have to worry about being late arriving at the airport. You can be certain the plane will not leave without you. A San Diego friend of ours, Mike Turk, disliked the rigid schedules of the airlines so much that when he learned to fly a Cirrus, he was hooked forever by the flexibility. These days Mike and his wife, Karen, trade pilot and copilot duties in their Eclipse jet.
Without the lines, waiting, lost luggage, transfers, delay concerns or security issues of commercial flights we avoid a lot of stress.
There are many visions people may have of traveling in style. But my vision is of a zestful, engaged, fulfilled life. It is hard to imagine anything that can do a better job of delivering that vision than flying yourself in your journey of the world—plus, you meet such wonderful people.