The mission was simple. Travel from my home base to Suwannee County Airport in northern Florida to conduct an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Rusty Pilot seminar. The weather was perfect. Blue skies, great visibility, a scattered layer well above my normal cruising altitude, light winds, and warm temperatures all added up to a beautiful day to fly.
But my company car, a bright yellow and black Cessna 152, was in the process of being lifted onto pedestals for display inside the AOPA Campus main tent at SUN ‘n FUN. It was certainly not going to be my primary mode of transportation for the trip.
Under normal circumstances I’d go to my back-up plan. My flying club operates a C-182 that is faster, roomier, and every bit as much fun to fly as the C-152. But since I’d neglected to book it, one of my fellow club members was prepping it for a trip to the Florida Keys.
It wasn’t long before I realized my options had whittled themselves down to one. Drive. Yep. Actually, get in the car, head for the Interstate, and roll 200 miles to my destination.
In theory, that’s no big deal. In practice, it can be significantly more challenging. Travel time would be longer, for one thing. In the air I have the option of navigating direct from Point A to Point B. In the car, not so much. The route from home to my destination would cover more miles in the car, and I would cover them at a slower pace.
The C-182 cruises at 135 knots. Better than 150 mph. Even with moderate headwinds I’d be to my destination far more quickly than the car could ever hope to get me there. Had the C-152 been available with its miserly fuel burn and slower, but perfectly acceptable, cruise speed of 90 to 95 knots, I’d be landing at 24J in an hour and a half.
Google Maps tells me the drive from my house to Suwannee County Airport should take a little over three hours. Experience tells me it will be more like four. This time, it took six. That’s right, six hours.
Three-quarters of my workday was spent sitting in the car, looking at the taillights of the car ahead of me as we sat in traffic. Sometimes we were stopped dead. Often, we matched the pace of a casual stroll.
It was not a pleasant experience. But you know that. You’ve been in the same sort of traffic tie-up. Most adults have. Traffic sucks, and it sucks because drivers who are making good time, on safe roads, with ample services available to them at well-marked exits, insist on driving as if getting one car length ahead of their current order in the line-up is critical.
In short, most people can’t drive for beans. They’re horrible at it. Shifting lanes multiple times in a single mile, tailgating the driver ahead of them in the hope the other driver will be intimidated into shifting lanes or speeding up. They squeeze into spaces barely large enough to accommodate the bulk of their vehicle, and they do it at highway speeds.
The result is obvious. Anyone who has driven on an American highway has seen a long, straight, flat piece of pavement with excellent forward visibility — marred by skid marks swerving off the pavement into the woods, or worse, into the oncoming lanes. Each accident, even if it’s a little fender bender, backs up traffic for miles. The waste in terms of lost time, lost productivity, and aggravation is almost beyond measure.
But it’s absolutely normal and accepted by most of the population.
Given the option of flying, I’ll take it. Like the car, or the motorcycle in my garage, the airplane provides me with a transportation option that I can take or leave as I wish. If it’s raining hard, I’ll take the car over the motorcycle. It’s the logical choice. If the weather is good and the forecast is forgiving, I’ll take the airplane on longer journeys, because it’s a more enjoyable experience overall.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not the best driver in the world. Nor do I claim to be. I’ve never put a car up on two wheels, and I’ve never driven at high speed through a mall. That’s Hollywood nonsense as far as I’m concerned.
My goal in the car is a more modest one. I shoot for safety. I stay in my lane, drive at the speed limit, and use my turn signals. It’s almost unimaginable, I know.
Similarly, I’m not the greatest pilot in the world. I’ll leave that debate to include folks like Bob Hoover, Patty Wagstaff, and Sean D. Tucker. I keep the airplane right-side-up throughout most flights, limit my turns to 30° banks, use VFR Flight Following religiously, and try to land as gently as possible. My greatest ambition as a pilot is to be safe. That’s all, just safe.
As objectives go, mine are fairly pedestrian. But to this point in my career I’ve never bent an airplane. I haven’t fallen off a motorcycle in more than 40 years, and I can’t remember the last time my car touched another car because of misjudgment or mismanagement on my part.
Safety strikes me as a rather basic goal. A tremendously important one.
When it comes to getting there, I’ve got options. Great options. But no matter if I go on two wheels, four wheels, or on wings, safety is my primary goal. That mindset has served me well for a good long time. Frankly, I wish it was a more common target for those riding, driving, and piloting around me. I certainly hope it becomes your standard, if it isn’t already.