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#191 Fear (Gulp!)

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Fear is sure an important factor in our approach to a lot of significant activities.  It was a big hurdle for me as a student pilot.  I knew I had a fear of heights.  My first employment in aviation was as a hot air balloonist.  As the balloon gained altitude I always became acutely aware of the height.  In fact, I had this fear of the basket’s floor giving way.

My first flying job… Balloon pilot. (© The Lansburgh Collection)

I’d get a funny feeling in my feet, a tingling that betrayed my fear of it giving way and leaving me falling to earth.  Later, I’d be apprehensive about aerobatics.

Finally I had a talk with myself.  Those who know me know that I often have discussions with “my Goofys”.  Let me explain.  My Goofy’s are the character Goofy who occupies a place on each of my shoulders.  The Goofy on one shoulder is rather angelic, sees the good in everything and is pretty much an old softy.  The other Goofy is pretty hard core.  He is a bit of a pessimist and has a crusty attitude about everything.  Those Goofys no doubt were based on

Pluto was the original cartoon character with a conscience on his shoulder. (©The Disney Company)

a Disney device that was used in a Pluto Cartoon.  Pluto was faced with the situation of a kitten drowning.  Suddenly, he had two Plutos on HIS shoulders, one a devil and the other an angel.  Obviously the devil didn’t care if the kitten drowned and the angel urged Pluto to save the kitten.  I’ll let you guess how it ended.  My Goofys are a real pair of characters.  The two never agree on anything, but my decisions are often based on my consultations with those two characters.  After discussing my fears of flying with the two Goofys, I pretty much had to shut them out of the process.  I realized that if I was gonna crash and die, it wouldn’t make any difference if I was afraid.  I’d die anyway.  “What would be would be”, was pretty much what I came up with.  Bingo, my mind was made up.  From that moment on, my approach to aviation was realistic and sensible.  Sure I had a little fear from time to time.  But for the most part I just pressed on and worked on my flying skills.  I learned to put a plane’s wheels in water and hydroplane.  I learned to loop, roll and hammerhead.  I even learned how to crash a Cub into a large cardboard box full of ducks.   I was freed from my irrational fears.

I see that same fear in many of my students when we approach the process of spin training.  I watch them out of

With its relatively quiet Hovering, the hot air balloon Is a pretty good symbol of A person’s fear of heights. I Used to get a lot of questions about The Cessna Balloon. It was used to Promote a Cessna Dealership. It was actually a Raven balloon. (Photo by Bert Fox, © The Lansburgh Collection.)

the corner of my eye.  I see their shoulders rise as their level of trepidation increases in formation with the airplane’s angle of attack.  They are faced with much the same decision I was so many years ago.  Perhaps they simply need to ask themselves, “Am I gonna trust this yayhoo next to me to keep me safe or not? And am I gonna trust this airplane to hold together in this very unnatural maneuver?”  That’s it in a nutshell.  Trust that airplane or not. Trust me or not.  If so, let’s go learn something and turn that fear into thrill.  If not, either quit flying or find an instructor and an airplane you DO trust.

Happy Swooping!