This Gift Of Time
By Stu Simpson
A Philosophical Reflection
Published in COPA Flight

Time plays a crucial part in nearly everything we do as aviators. It tells us when we have to land because there will come a time when the fuel gauge reads empty, or, for some, a time when the daylight gauge reads empty. Time is important to our airplanes - the number of hours an airframe has tells us much about its state and the number of hours on the engine tells us when to do maintenance. Time is also a way for pilots to keep score, a way of measuring who has the biggest, uh…, log book. And like it or not, time tells each of us when we're used up too.

But to me, time is so much more than just a measuring stick. When it comes to airplanes, I think of time as a gift. The more time I get in the sky, the more cherished the gift.

Some guys I know love speed. There are few things that excite them as much as 200 mph. They want to get into the sky, go as fast as they can, and get there - all in the shortest possible time. After all, speed is really just another name for time.

I subscribe to a different logic. For me, speed just isn't where it's at. I don't need a lot of speed. Fact is, I prefer to go slow. If I go too fast, I get there too soon and I don't get to fly as long.

I don't really have any place to go anyway. I've no family far away that I visit regularly (though I did fly a few hundred miles to see my folks, recently). Nor do I use my airplane for business.

For me, and most guys I fly with, the journey really is the destination and it's always an adventure. Wherever I end up is pretty much where I want to be, as long as I flew there.

If I go fast I miss too much. I don't get time to see the fields beneath, or the rivers, mountains or clouds. When I fly low and slow I get to really see the world. I see where people live, what their towns look like, where they've built roads and water towers and gardens. I see the things I want to see. Going any faster I would not have the time to watch and enjoy all that.

Cruising along at about 80 mph, instead of 200 mph, I get to fly a little longer. Oh, I know it helps to have a little extra speed when the sun's getting weak or the wind's getting strong, but if I went any faster I'd lose time.

I like to truly appreciate each second I'm aloft, to enjoy where I'm at, what I'm doing and the people I'm with. On each flight I look at the world in a new light, looking for things I've never seen before. I take time to enjoy the subtle shades of sunlight bouncing off the Rockies during a winter inversion. I look for the beauty in the planes flying off my wing, to see the sun dazzling off their fabric or throwing tiny shadows past their rivets. Yes, we really do fly close enough to see all that.

I also use the time to enjoy my airplane. I try on each flight to cement in my memory the feel of the controls, the way I pull the stick when we climb. I absorb the gentle bounces and the minute sensations of each flight. I take time to feel what it is to fly, to have the plane at my whim, to sense the tilt of the wings - to really feel it - as we bank into a turn. Indeed, I try to get the absolute most out of the time in my tank.

You see, I know that someday this will all be gone. There'll come a time when I can't fly. I know there will be a day when I look up at a plane in the sky and say "I used to do that."

Time, in fact, is one of the main reasons I write of flying. It is my feeble attempt to actually capture time so that far from now I, or someone else, can read my scribbles, return to this time and know again how it feels to fly - not merely drive - a small, simple airplane around the sky.

And too, many years from now, the writings will help me remember after they're gone, the men and the airplanes with whom I've flown. It gives me a chance to say now that I'm glad I've known you; glad for all the time I've spent just off your wing; glad that I've shared with you the wind and known what it truly means to fly; that I'm glad for this gift of time.

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