I Was Good at Taking Tests

Part of our weekend entertainment included the movie Flight. It was gripping – both the pilot’s struggle with the airplane and with his alcoholism.  To quibble, I don’t see how a mechanical problem in the tail could cause loss of hydraulic pressure and my understanding is that for a plane to fly upside down special strengthening of the wings is required.  I was totally involved, though an essential part of me wanted Denzel Washington, when he had the opportunity, to say, ”  My name is Whip Whitaker and I am an alcoholic and a pilot.”  And I wanted him to take that Cessna 172 up into the air.  ( I think they wrote that scene out.)

Somehow I knew when I was quite young in college that flying a plane, particularly a jet fighter, is one of the highest attainments that a modern person can strive for.  A pilot applies physics at a gut level.  He or she must be intelligent enough to learn navigation and aerodynamics and mechanics and electronics and be able to think in three dimensions.  He or she needs a sense of speed, of equilibrium, of kinesthetic  feedback.  This was the ethic of The Right Stuff and Top Gun which I sensed before they became  cultural phenomena.

One summer when I was in graduate school, I studied for and earned a private pilot’s license.  My flight instructors at Meadowlark Airport in Huntington Beach California were amazed that I got a hundred percent on the the written part of the exam.  I told them, “That is what I do. I take tests and I am good at it.”  And I was but I wasn’t a good pilot.  I could handle the plane intellectually but not viscerally.  I had a few adventures though.  My friend Spike and I flew a Cessna 172 across the country and back, sleeping in small airports.  I tried to learn to fly gliders in Fremont California.  But I knew I wasn’t confident or able in the air and quit flying.

I always was a dreamy kid with my books and my myopia, yet my physicality, my sense of physical being was always trying to express itself.  I just wasn’t going to be flying or, for that matter, performing a sport at a high level.  The best I would do was ride my bike and work a while with my hands.  Whip Whitaker was a good pilot and there must have been some moments when his better self “touched the face of God.”


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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