I recall a moment as a child visiting my grandparents in their apartment above the funeral home that my Grandpa managed. We were sitting at their kitchen table eating, and my imagination transformed one of the objects on the table into a flying machine of sorts. Diving, rolling and climbing as if I were in a dogfight with gripping, international stakes, I careened through the sky while evading enemy aircraft and returning fire. I supported the scene with organic sounds crafted with the support of meticulous research through movies, cartoons, and friends with older brothers. Patiently, the adults at the table allowed me to indulge in the creative endeavors that often fill the minds and moments of children. I sensed a slight tension building but remained unaffected by it as my breakfast companions pushed around their eggs, bacon, and toast. My Grandpa was a quietly creative man with a perfectly dry sensibility. With his eyes still focused on the paper he was reading, he calmly asked, “Will you land the damn thing already?”
There was an aviation theme with my Grandpa. In fact, during WWII he served as a Corporal in the 389th Bomb Group, known as the Sky Scorpions, in the Army 8th Air Force stationed in Hethel, England. I wish I knew more about his time there, but his enthusiasm for planes and flying echoed through my interactions with him. He wanted me to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. I remember he would slow pitch the idea when my Mom, brother and I would visit them in Daytona Beach, FL. Embry Riddle didn’t end up being a waypoint on my flight plan, nor did I even learn how to fly, but today I found new meaning in his words from the kitchen table that morning.
I am certainly not discounting the miraculous feat of lifting tons of metal into the air and sustaining altitude, but I have often heard that taking off is relatively simple and flying in perfect conditions, in general, is not tremendously difficult. But if you ask most pilots, landing is the real challenge. When you land, you are transitioning from wide open sky and almost endless possibilities to an unforgiving strip of fixed concrete only seventy-five feet wide. With crosswinds pushing the nose in all directions, you can have multiple forces working against you. If I were to put myself in a cockpit falling from the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, besides training and experience, I would rely on timely and confident decision-making and a commitment to action.
Thinking big on an idea is like taking off from a runway. It’s like starting an exciting journey fed by purely unconstrained momentum. The energy is palpable. When the weather and mechanical components cooperate, flying itself is a free exploration in the wonder of physics with a new perspective on a common horizon. Landing is closing the loop. It’s the drudgingly difficult transition from emergence to execution. It’s committing to the task of seeing something through by methodically following detailed flight procedures, maintaining laser-focus on weather conditions and instruments, and landing a metal tube on a spinning ball all while living to tell the tale. Completing any mission worth anything will eventually require detailed planning, vigorous action, and an unwavering commitment. Sometimes these activities aren’t as fun as spending time wondering, thinking and ideating without expectation, but bringing these diametrically opposed feats together is the foundation of creation.
When I fly commercially, I still get excited during takeoff and acknowledge a heightened awareness during landings. Closing the loop is a powerful tool in the messy middle between idea and execution, potential and actualization … even search and meaning. We train what we want to improve, so I will do my best to heed my Grandpa’s advice by trying to bring some of these crazy ideas from the freedom of the big sky to the gritty contours of the tarmac.