Friday, January 30, 2009

My (Misplaced) Fear of Flying

WARNING! WARNING! If you are here to read about death row inmates eating their eyes and grown men having sex with horses you have come to the wrong place. I’ve reformed, I’ve seen the light, I’m a new man.

Let’s talk phobias!

I thought about being a pilot when I was younger, it’s a profession full of chance takers, guts and in some cases glory. The problem is that I have a fear of flying, or so I thought. When I watched the news stories last week regarding the “miracle” of US Airways Flight 1589 in New York I had a paradigm shift with regards to my phobia. And now that I’ve made this transition I’m ready to come clean. I don’t have a fear of flying… I have a fear of crashing. I also have a fear of dying but I’ve always thought that the fear of crashing was the prerequisite to the fear of dying.

Everyone still with me?

Let’s face it, there is something exhilarating about flying through the air, regardless, I might add, of whether you’re in plane or it’s just you in free flight. What stops us some of us from pursuing a life of flight is not the flight; it’s the potential of the crash. And I’m an expert witness for the defense in this case.

In my lifetime I have flown on commercial jets and puddle jumpers nearly 100 times. I have taken off 4 times in small planes, landed in only one of them. I have allowed someone to tie big rubber bands around my legs and ankles and then purposely jumped from 170 feet in the air with only a swimming pool to break my fall or, at some might believe, contain my remains. I have jumped from trees, high diving boards, the occasional window, deck, and roof. In all of these experiences the thrill is in the flight, the fear is in the options for the landing.

Let me share some experiences. Three times I’ve been skydiving. The question always comes up, “why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Trust me, the planes you jump out of are so crap that you want to get out. Each time I jumped from 2,400 feet in the air hooked to a static line. That means that I while I’m falling out of the plane and have completely forgot everything that they taught me in skydiving school, that there is a line to automatically pull the ripcord for my parachute. They are also nice enough to provide a spare chute in case things go wrong. The third option is death or a landing so hard that you become your family’s favorite vegetable. This school was so thorough that they informed you how long you could expect to float down if your parachute deployed properly, 3 minutes, and how long the flight would be if your chute failed to deploy. About 17 seconds. And with skydiving the question isn’t about whether you’re going to get on the ground again, it’s how far into the ground. I don’t know how far you have to fall before people on the ground can hear you screaming for your mommy if your chute fails to open.

Bungee Jumping is nothing like skydiving. Bungee jumping is “totally radical dude”! There are many places that you can bungee jump; off the side of a bridge, some take an elevator to the top of a crane, others hang their digits on the edge of a cliff. Then some guy who doesn’t have an engineering degree wraps your legs and ankles with bungees, a bigger version of the ones that you use to anchor the tarp over your tent; basically a big rubber band. The problem with bungee jumping is that you can visualize how far you’re going to drop because you’ve got visual verification, with skydiving you can’t comprehend the height. Let’s see, 2,400 feet is about half a mile, so it’s two times around the track but from the air. With bungee jumping you know where you are going to land or in some cases, splatter. The thrill is the flight, the fear is the landing. Here’s the other surprise; jumping from a height of 170 feet with a big rubber band attached to your legs means that you are at some point going to stretch the rubber band to its extremes. Now if you’ve every stretched a rubber band you know that they like to bounce back to their original shape. What goes down must come back up. You can see your house from up there, and again, and again, and again.

So far I’m pretty confident with skydiving and bungee jumping. I’m really okay with airplanes; each time I takeoff and land safely my confidence increases. I don’t have the same confidence in the future of solo flight where you are the flight vehicle. All of those documentaries showing humans with jet packs, or wings and rudders attached to their bodies trying to fly and then crashing have not convinced me that personal flight is the future. Besides, if God had intended that we fly solo he would have given us a rudder on the backside instead of a butt crack.


Jen said...

You are insane. I would NEVER bungee jump! Just the thought of all the possible "what if's" is enough to send me into major panic. Sky diving? Same thing. Although strangely enough, the jet pack idea totally appeals to me - is that weird?

April said...

The puddle jumpers are the best! You get the most for your money especially in turbulence! A roller coaster/airplane ride all wrapped up into one an aircoaster ride!

Never a bungee jump! NEVER! I've had one too many rubber bands snap on my hands! THEY HURT!

Now, if I could place a rudder in someone else's butt...someone of my choosing....that's another story!!

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

Okay I would be the ULTIMATE of cool if I ever dared do that...but I don't. So I'll live through your experiences!!!