Written by larry on April 22nd, 2012

After more than eight hours of flight, I found myself at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport, with a nice line guy handing me a cold bottle of water. Another delivered my rental car right to the proper side of the plane with the air conditioner already running, as is the Florida tradition.

Mostly, the trip was uneventful. But the third leg underscored for me what a good metaphor private aviation is for life. After stopping in Brunswick, Georgia to buy gas, I checked the local weather between there and our destination, only to find the area peppered with heavy rain and thunderstorms. A full-blown thunderstorm will chew up a small plane and spit it out in parts; surviving such an encounter is unusual. One option was to spend the night in Brunswick and depart early the next morning. But stepping back, I realized that I was in a situation similar to the one every new pilot is in when he starts flying. Take too many risks and you die. But take no risks at all, and you’ll spend your flying life never straying far from your home airport. So the problem becomes one not of risk minimization, but rather risk optimization. Where’s the sweet spot in the curve where you’re pushing new horizons but are still safe?

Its really no different from what we do with the rest of our lives. Personally, I tend to err on the side of caution. And I’m probably poorer for it, not so much financially (though maybe that, too), but in terms of life experience.

In the airplane, I’m fortunately equipped with some equipment that’s able to view weather radar, but with an image that’s not quite current. I’m also equipped with a device that can detect lightning strikes, but does nothing to detect dangerous storm system that aren’t yet at the lightning-making stage. During the trip, I was talking to an air traffic controller whose job was making sure that planes didn’t collide, but who was also able to provided some limited information about weather . She could help me avoid the storm cells, but she had her own agenda that came first.

So essentially, I was integrating my own observations with those of others, and with the needs of others. The penalty for doing badly was potentially very uncomfortable. It might have been easier to wait out the storm in Brunswick. But my though was that the problem was a manageable one, even if it ended with a stop somewhere in the middle, or a turn back to Brunswick.

We made it to Fort Lauderdale with a plane well washed by the rain but none the worse for wear. And I’m an incrementally more experienced pilot, with a incrementally better understanding of my own strengths and limitations. And that feels good.

I only wish I was better at taking the lesson back to real life.


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