FIRST VICTIM

My very first passenger as a private pilot was Jeff, a pal from work. For months I’d regaled everyone with my exploits as a hero in the making, and most either had no interest or scorned me as nuts for ever going up in a plane with no engine. Brave young Jeff, knowing he’d be a guinea pig, was the one who agreed to come along.

I was itching to demonstrate my knowledge and amazing capabilities, and briefed him about everything to expect, withholding only one surprise for dramatic value. At conclusion of the tow, with no warning, instead of the standard easy right turn I pulled a steep banking stall and dove into a radical high-G recovery. It was perfectly safe, but Jeff didn’t know that.

So he was frightened at the outset and then woozy all the way to the ground. Fortunately for him, I wasn’t good enough to stay up long. To his credit he toughed it out and dismissed my lame apologies, but the crime could not be undone. I promised him a good time and gave him the opposite.  After that he was never quite as hale a companion at work…

The fulcrum between good and bad in all social interaction is basic respect (or its absence), and ever greater responsibilities sharpen that point the further we stumble through our lives. Innocent passengers shouldn’t need to know how strong their pilot’s stomach is.  Better and far wiser, introduce an apprehensive guest to the joy of silent flight with a limousine ride at first, not a hair-raising, nauseating plunge into the unknown. Especially if they’re aware that you lack experience! There should be plenty of time later to blow their minds, after they’re properly hooked.

Ruining Jeff’s day taught me to honor those who trust me by seeing the experience through their eyes, finding more meaning in their pleasure than my own –- and for students, more pleasure in their pride than mine. What could matter more?

If ever you have the courage to fly with me and live to not regret it, thank my long lost buddy Jeff.