Like Riding a Bike

Well, that’s the saying anyway. Today it proved to be somewhat true in my case. Longtime readers (thank you so kindly) are aware of my initiative last spring to earn my ticket flying powered airplanes. This was my last entry on the subject, from last July. I was well on my way to finishing up in September. Then, we decided to sell our house, buy a downtown loft, move, invest in and sometimes fix-up real-estate–and now build new townhouses–and it all got to be a bit of overload. And I haven’t even covered running a company with a couple of dozen employees–or blogging. …Or having my customary evening cocktails and making sure the hard disk on my TiVo doesn’t get past 80% capacity…

I called Jim, my instructor, a few weeks ago describing how my morning 3-mile walk underneath the final glide for SJC was just killing me. Every morning I watch airplanes land when we’re in a high-pressure weather pattern (rare, lately) and take off when we’re in low pressure pattern and rain is coming (too common). By the way, clearly the most impressive spectacle is the morning landing of the FedEx DC-10, probably arriving from Memphis. Day in; day out. What a cool looking bird in full landing configuration.

So I called Jim, and then it commenced raining–again–day after day and I let it go by. Yesterday, he called me and I told him: "Jim, unless we schedule something right now, it isn’t going to happen." So we did. I met him at Amelia Reid today at 1 p.m. I had told my wife last night: "Don’t worry; I’m not stupid enough to go up by myself even if Jim was stupid enough to let me."

It’s been eight months. My last log entry was August 20, 2005.

We did a crosswind departure out to the training area where I demonstrated coordinated turns to the right and left, some power-on slow controllable flight at 50 mph indicated, some power-on stalls, kissing stalls with turns, and some power-off stalls with power recovery. When he was satisfied that I could still keep myself "out of the bucket" (a metaphor that integrates being behind the power curve and close ground clearance) on short base & final, we went back and did two landings to full stop and two touch & go’s. It all went superbly and upon return to base he endorsed my logbook for another 90 days of solo flight.

There was an interesting, self-reflective aspect to it all. My landings–where the rubber meets the road–where all superb–even with a bit of a cross wind. I recall that on my last solo outing, on August 20, I was unhappy with a good majority of my eight landings. So what’s going on? I believe it’s part of our wonderful human condition. We have the mental, the physical, and the all-important integration of the two. But we also have a mental capacity that allows us to train ourselves–to compartmentalize so that we achieve a state of being able to do things with near perfection that requires no conscious thought on our part. To catch a phrase: "muscle memory." That’s where the riding-a-bike metaphor comes from.

It’s also why any training endeavor needs to be integrated with sufficient time. We tend to want to "overthink" things, and this is a real and valid concept/concern. We certainly must keep our wits about us at all times, but there is also reason to "let go," so to speak, and allow the amazing matching which is our integrated body and intellect show its true and awesome power. There’s a fine line, and I think perfection is to be found by dancing along its edges. Today, it was only essentials that were in my conscious sphere and not a lot of other stuff that’s part of the training process. That’s what made the difference.

Some would say it’s a gift from God. I’d say it’s how we built civilizations on our own.


  1. Jess on April 29, 2006 at 20:04

    I'm going through ground school here in Bangkok. I wonder if it's much different than the U.S.?

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