Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Flying vs. Driving

Flight planning, flight planning, and more flight planning.
When I learned to fly, I thought it would be like boating. Sure, I knew maintenance would be expensive, but I imagined jumping into my plane, at a moment's notice, and heading off into the wild blue yonder.

It turns out, while driving and boating can be relaxing, flying is a bit more stressful on a complex level. For starters, when flying, I have to always be "on," meaning highly attentive, lest I make a catastrophic mistake. Even when cruising on autopilot, I have to continually monitor the instruments while talking to air traffic controllers; and they're not patient if you miss their calls more than once or twice. Driving tends to be very linear, in a single direction. A driver maneuvers based on what's directly ahead. Rarely does a driver worry about what's coming from the sides, never mind above or below as is the case when flying through three dimensions. What's more is that most of the flying I do is to keep my skills and plane from getting rusty. I'd love to fly for leisure, every day, but that's not realistic.

A couple months ago, I noticed the big difference between flying and driving on a trip to Cupertino for a speaking engagement on Apple's design and marketing philosophies. My intent was to fly myself into San Jose Airport. I did my usual planning, the night before, and drove out to the airport at noon. As soon as I got out of my car I noticed it was eerily quiet; like the calm in the eye of a hurricane. Something didn't seem right since the airport, which is usually a whirlwind of activity, was too still. After a minute or two I heard several F/A-18s flying fast, low, and loud. I pulled up a digital chart (map) of the airport and saw that it was under temporary flight restrictions (TFR). I hand't noticed the pending TFR, the night before, which seemed odd. I called the airport operations manager and he confirmed my concerns. The airport had suspended operations while the Blue Angels practiced for the next day's airshow. He also mentioned that the TFR was a moving target since the times kept changing leading up to when it went into effect. The TFR began about 30 minutes before I arrived at the airport and it would be in effect for nearly six hours.

Buttoned up since I was driving instead of flying.
I took a few minutes to do some mental math as I sat in my car listening to the silence, pierced by the roar of jet engines. Flying commercial, on short notice, was prohibitively expensive. My next option was to wait until 5 PM, pick up my flight clearance, and then depart, along with many other flights. That would probably get me to Silicon Valley around 9 PM. My final option was to hit the road and drive for eight hours. That would get me to my destination around 8 PM. I chose to drive.

As I headed up the 5, I couldn't help but notice my immediate mental shift from being outwardly focused on flying to being inwardly focused on me, myself, and I as I daydreamed through LA traffic.

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