Second only to space, I have always been very interested in aviation. To this day I am thrilled to get to fly on any type of airplane – well, maybe not about the security lines, but I am thrilled about the actual flying.
I grew up in a time and place where people actually went to the local airport just to watch the airplanes land and take off. Seems silly now, but aviation is like magic in many ways.
I always search out a window seat and curse my luck when I can’t get one. I like to watch them marshal the planes around the gates and I study the taxiway patterns. I always check to see if the flaps are set properly (at least on my side of the airplane) and am mentally prepared to ring the flight attendant call button to send a message to the pilot if it doesn’t look right. During the takeoff or landing roll I count the distance remaining boards on the runway to see how fast we are accelerating or stopping. I find it all so very interesting and entertaining.
In flight I am fascinated by what I can see out the window. I love those flight tracking programs that keep me updated on where we are; watching the geography unfold below me is endlessly fascinating. And especially out west, where the vegetation is sparse, contemplating the geology and land forms is intriguing.
But best of all is watching the weather. Back when I was a Shuttle Ascent/Entry Flight Director we hung on every word that the airborne weather observers would radio down to us. On every airline flight I would study the clouds and imagine how I would describe them to Mission Control – good practice in understanding what the weather pilots would report to me later. Thin high cirrus clouds – are they translucent or opaque? Not an easy call some times, but the difference would have a dramatic effect on a shuttle deorbit call. Lower puffy clouds –are they building and showing precipitation forming? Or are they just fair weather cumulus? How high are the bases? Is the coverage more or less than 50% – the difference between scattered and broken – the difference between go and no-go? Watching the gravity waves in stratus clouds, lightning erupting from towering cumulus, uncanny demarcation lines between a cloud street and clear skies; all endless fodder for study.
And beautiful as well. Pastels that cannot be captured by any camera. Endlessly changing.
So, I love to fly in a window seat, with the window shades open.
Lately however, I’ve been getting a lot of dirty looks from people sitting near me. The light coming in from the window is making it hard to see their little electronic screens where they are watching some fiction or sending some emails. They want me to close the window shade so they can live in their virtual world unimpeded by light from the real world.
Nobody yet has been bold enough to request a lowered shade, but I expect that any time now.
What does it say that we are more interested in the virtual than the real? When did the real world –with all its beauty and imperfections become less interesting than a manufactured flickering ephemeral images of vapors and imagination?
Not that imagination is bad, far from it. But whose imagination? Yours or somebody else’s? And what fuels that imagination? Is it rooted in the real world?
Some profound message may be hiding here, but in my simple way it makes me worry. We can hope to improve the world, but it is not a good thing, I think, to believe the world is different than it is. We all have to live in the real world and deal with it – good and bad, beautiful and ugly, joyful and painful. Hiding in the dark doesn’t seem to me to be the way to have a full, successful, and happy life.
So I won’t be flying with the window shades down, but I will be looking out there, studying.