I’m guessing my Dad owned between 1,500 to 2,000 books. Books of all kinds: Biographies, novels, history, reference, and more. The vast majority were donated to our local library. A few dozen ended up on my bookshelf.
I just finished reading A Gift of Wings by Richard Bach. I’m not certain Dad ever read it because there were no telltale creases along the spine. Try as I might to keep it intact, the book is now in multiple disconnected sections as the hardened binding glue snapped when I opened the book too far.
I’ve read a few Bach books, but this was a first read of this book for me. The Editor’s note proved helpful: “There is a lot about flying in this book, but much more about Richard Bach and his last 15 years of seeking answers and finding some. For anyone who cares to know who he is, it is all here.”
As I read the book, the following passages stuck out to me for a variety of reasons.
“All at once I saw the obvious. The world is as it is because that is the way we wish it to be. Only as our wish changes does the world change. Whatever we pray for, we get.”
This was preceded by Bach’s memory of “a girl I met in New York, who lived in a tight-packed Brooklyn tenement…” He wondered aloud why she didn’t move to wide open spaces.
“I could never do that,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s like out there. I guess I’m more afraid of what I don’t know than I hate what I have right now.”
I recently had a conversation with a friend’s mother, on Mother’s Day of all days. As the conversation steered to her health, she mentioned her trepidation at walking the neighborhood as exercise.
“I can’t walk the sidewalks, I’m terrified of all the bad things happening,” she said.
From Bach’s memory, the “girl” thinks she knows what it’s like “out there,” but in reality, not so much. We don’t know what we don’t know and until we experience the world, we remain in the dark.
For me, taking a walk down the sidewalk is worth the risk. For my friend’s Mom, not so much.
Chapter: “Steel, aluminum, nuts, and bolts”
“An ‘airframe’ is a sort of cage built of steel tubing and sheet aluminum. It is tin and fabric and wire. It is nuts and bolts. An airframe is made to the calculations of the aircraft designer, who is a very wise and practical man who makes his living at this sort of thing and does not mess around with esoteric mumbo-jumbo.”
Esoteric mumbo-jumbo made me laugh out loud. I imagine a salesperson being brushed aside by the designer for having the gall to ask for a cup holder for passengers.
Chapter: “A light in the toolbox”
“That was how the rarest event in life came to me… I changed the way I thought. I learned the mechanics of airplanes.”
The first word in that sentence refers to when Bach “came to own a crazy old biplane, with an old-fashioned round engine on its nose.” That very same airplane “was not about to tolerate a pilot who didn’t know something of the personality in a 175-horsepower Wright Whirlwind, something about the repair of wooden ribs and doped fabric.”
Philosophically, as the chapter opens, Bach states, “That which a man believes is that which becomes his reality.”
Followed by, “I’m no mechanic.”
Well, until he became one. And he became one because he changed his beliefs.
Chapter: “Journey to a perfect place”
“No beers cans and empty cigarette packs strewn around a cloud, no street signs or stoplights, no bulldozers changing air to concrete. No room for anxiety, because it is always the same. No room for boredom because it was always different.”
“What do you know about that! I thought. Our one perfect place is the sky itself! And I looked across at the Aeronca and I laughed.”
Bach spent a fair amount of time, it would seem, flying from place to place. Barnstorming in one era. Simply exploring in another. Always looking for that “perfect place.” And if he found it, would he ever need to again fly, he wondered?
I’m not typically a fan of poetry, but this chapter — to me — is poetry.
Chapter: “The $71,000 sleeping bag”
“This airplane was different. It was sheet metal instead of cloth and dope, radios and omni and ADF and DME and marker beacon and EGT and autopilot and trim and flaps and prop control and mixture instead of nothing. But the stars were the same stars.”
“By sunup, I was convinced that the Cessna Super Skymaster, although it is a great twin-engine plane that can never kill a pilot with the terrible yaw of engine loss in the weather at full gross, is a lousy sleeping bag. For $71,000, I thought they should at least make the airplane a little easier to spend the night in.”
None of that “esoteric mumbo-jumbo,” replied the designer.
Chapter: “Adventures aboard a flying summerhouse”
“Don’t think of a Seabee as an airplane that can land on water,” Don Kyte had told me years before. “Think of it as a boat that can fly. A boat that can fly, if you don’t care if it’s not as fast as, say, a cross-country minie-ball.”
I rather like Don Kyte’s explanation of what a Seabee is — and isn’t. I had to look up minie-ball though. (It’s a hollow-based bullet used in muskets during the Civil War.)
Thank you Mr. Bach. I enjoyed flying alongside you.