Aviation is the Caribbean of the 1700s, and you are fish bait. Savvy?

Our local flying club was having its yearly “Talk Like a Pilot Day” cookout at their hangar, and I was invited to give the keynote address.

I was among a few dozen people who had spent their day talking like a pilot around clueless non-flyers. They had been saying “Roger” when they meant “OK.” They had spent the day at their jobs calling the break room the “galley” and the bathroom the “lav,” and had been irritating the hell out of their non-flying friends and relatives by using the phonetic alphabet when they spoke.

For example, if they were discussing a news story they saw on CNN, they would refer to the network as “Charlie-November-November.” The number nine was expressed as “niner,” and if they were about to make a turn in their car, they announced that they were “deviating ninety degrees left.” A few of the more contentious among them said a hearty “AMF” as they exited their offices.

Having had my fill of burnt hotdogs and cold grocery store deli potato salad, I rose to speak.

Arg! I said.

A person at a table near me took the bait, spoke up, and said, “It’s talk like a pilot day, not talk like a pirate day!

There is very little difference between pilots and pirates, matey, I said. Both are outside of what most people consider normal. The public sees us as swashbuckling adventurers bent on destruction and mayhem as we sail our carbon-producing chem-tail-spewing airplanes above their heads. Scratch a pilot, find a pirate.

Aviation was built on adventure and has only descended into a state of predictability, reliability, and, yes, boredom in the past five or six decades. Early passengers gazed out the windows at the clouds and wondered if they were going to arrive at their destination alive. Now, they pull their window shades shut so they can see their iPhones better and wonder if they will arrive on time.

Although the fun and adventure of airline flying has gone, thrills, chills, scoundrels and pirates can still be found in general aviation.

I have been living in the world of flying longer than many of you, and I can say without a doubt that along with nice and normal people like you and me, general aviation is populated with pirates, scallywags, time-padders, tax cheats, deadbeats, snake oil salespeople and rapacious opportunity seekers. 

If you think of our flying lives as part of an eighteenth-century sea-faring tale, things that confused you about aviation begin to make sense: 

·      That flight instructor who flew dozens of hours with you before they thought you were “ready” to solo? The one who skipped lessons whenever a twin-engine time-building opportunity arose? A freebooter.

·      The aviation “alphabet” organizations that try to fool you into renewing your yearly membership every two weeks? Scurvy dogs.

·      The vending machine in the pilot lounge that took your doubloons and didn’t give you a soda or those peanut butter crackers? A two-timing garbage scow.

·      That mechanic who took your money, slept in your hangar, ate your food, trashed your bathroom and skipped town before re-rigging your flaps? A privateer and a marauder.

Have you noticed that this airport is surrounded by barbed wire and surveillance cameras? These are the security precautions that any buccaneer would welcome to protect their booty (or airplanes) when they sail into their personal Tortugas.

Think of our local general aviation airports as Pirate bases. We need a place of refuge during the winter or storm season when the winds and wet shiver our timbers. We need to be able to repair, refit and resupply our aircraft in a friendly harbor. Ideally, our pirate hangars also store other booty like golf carts, motorcycles and refrigerators filled with grog. 

To continue this swashbuckling metaphor, we can think of the FAA as the British Navy of the 1700s. Strong and honest government enforcers, yes, but slow-moving, occasionally foppish, and sometimes they are gigantic, galactic buzzkills.

They defend aviation for king and country while we rapscallions, with our basic meds, our homebuilt ships, and our funny-colored hats, frolic and relish flying with our eyes on adventure and our souls longing to just once fly into a quest for glory. A ramp check from the FAA feels like they are boarding our flagship, and an enforcement action from them can feel like we are getting 30 lashes.

I know that none of us are prone to doing any actual pillaging and destruction under the flag of the Jolly Roger. We are honest pilots who want a clear day, a good airplane, light tailwinds and a cool destination. We understand the need for the FAA to keep the real scoundrels in line, and we have been known to do a good deed or two with our airplanes.

I wish we had more of the adventurous nature of the pirate life in our flying lives. Maybe we could do a little less worrying about how much lead is in our fuel and how much cholesterol is in our food and think more about flying to that beach hideout or teaching our flying students to do outrageous maneuvers like spins and slips all the way to landings.

Flying without the adventurous nature of a pirate is like an airline simulator session, a fake voyage in a dark box that goes nowhere.

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