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Up in the Air

The Pilot

Erika Armstrong - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The preflight begins, the outside world slips away.

The conversation between aircraft and pilot is intimate. This deep, complex relationship began the first day their wheels released the earth. Each relies on the other to stay alive. Both must listen and pay attention. Their language is intangible to most, but deeply understood between pilot and machine.

As the checklist rolls inside the pilot’s head, thought drives touch. A hand reaches out to touch the latch, the fluid, the bolt, the oil. Life fluids to both. What is there that should not be. What is missing. What is machine telling pilot. Both speak to each other. Both listen.

Once inside the cockpit, the dance begins. The rest of the crew joins in. Laughter, conversation, a kinship based on trust, experience and knowledge.  Ego forged from practice, from being humbled, from being challenged. Humor driving the conversation. Life in aviation is intense, but there is a strong bond forged from being in a secret society where membership is achieved, rather than given. There is no easy way in, but we can laugh about it, now.

V1…rotate, and it begins. The rush of momentum fleeing the tethers of gravity, pulling up to where there is less pressure, more vantage, more perspective. Level off gives the pilot a chance to gather, get caught up, get ahead of where they were. A chance to reflect about what was and what will be.

Descent. Not just thinking about the future but doing something about it. Preparing. Being ready for whatever forces want to challenge pilot and machine. A team undivided. A descent into the clouds, knowing it might be that way until the flare begins. Machine talks to pilot, pilot talks to machine. Both listen.

That moment. Wheels kiss earth. Static discharge into earth, reconnected again. Airport diagrams to taxi in. Follow that, follow this, all the while pilot commands machine, machine listens, responds.

The captain. At the gate. She sets the brakes and smiles at her crew. A spirited conversation between pilot and machine. MELs get written. The airplane has spoken and the crew has listened. An agreement has been made to begin again. Food, fuel, reload.

The preflight begins again…

From the front desk of an FBO, to the captain's seat of a commercial airliner, Erika Armstrong has experienced everything aviation has to offer. She is an Aviation Professor at MSU Denver, Director of Instructional Design at Advanced Aircrew Academy, and author of A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT If you want to share your conversation between pilot and machine, she can be reached at

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