Overhead, the distinctive oscillating whine of an airplane engine. I close my book, drop it into my lap, and cast my vision to the heavens—searching. My eyes sweep back and forth, up and down, pausing briefly to take in each segment of the sky in the direction of the engine’s throbbing drone. There! A flash of white. High, high, high up in the azure sky, far above the earth. My soul shoots out of body and rockets into the atmosphere above to join the pilots in the cockpit. My eyes, left behind, remain locked onto the plane.
And I’m not alone. We pilots can’t help ourselves. An airplane flying overhead, like a powerful magnet, never fails to draw our eyes upward. We stop what we’re doing to watch it pass. At home. At work. Out at the lake, on a hike, or even at the Walmart parking lot.
Out at the airport it’s worse, of course. All activity and all conversation stop as we watch planes land. When Lisa and Rio hear a radio call on our scanner, they spring out of the hangar like a twin-headed jack-in-the-box to watch the show. Luckily, that’s a somewhat rare occurrence at our sleepy little airport, but at busy airports, two pilots can spend the whole day together, get nothing done, and never say more than seventeen words to each other between sunrise and sunset.
We pilots also watch planes takeoff, of course. And we watch them taxi. Heck, we even stare at them refueling, or just parked on the ramp. It’s more than professional interest. It’s vaguely voyeuristic. Watching planes makes us happy. Some pilots, ones who don’t fly much themselves and have gotten dangerously rusty, even seem to like watching planes more than actually flying them.
I’ll bet that’s why some smart entrepreneur—whose name is lost to the mists of time—opened the first airport restaurant. It wasn’t to feed the traveling public waiting on their flights. It was to take advantage of a group of people who loved airplanes too much to go home for lunch. No advertising required. Just set up some chairs at a window facing the runway and light up the grill. Build it and they will come.
Back on my porch, the high-flying airplane is disappearing over the far side of the dome of the sky, the heartbeat drone of the engine fading away into the distance. My spirit flutters back down from the sky like an autumn leaf, and returns to my body. I sigh, and pick up my book again.
Yeah. Watching airplanes. We pilots can’t help ourselves.