Aviation News

The Art of Flying, by Rob Bach

by on Dec.05, 2009, under Articles, Aviation

First, thanks so much for the excellent responses. They are thoughtful, encouraging, and insightful.

To read words from intelligent minds gives me hope that this sampling is a model for Humans as a whole.

Now, onward:

When people ask, “Hey, this Flying thing – what’s so special about it?”, words tumble out of my brain in a rush to be heard and in doing so, logjam as I stand open-mouthed-silent. Untangling the beautiful mess into something intelligible takes a heartbeat or two.

Where do I start? This is a huge question that has been answered by so many more eloquent than I from every possible point of view through time, I feel like I should simply hand over a card with a list of author’s names on it, smile and turn away.

I’ll try here, though, just for you.

Let me break Flight down into categories:

Science: from the physics involved to the exploration of the feel of the forces on our Selves when we fly to all that is encompassed by meteorology, navigation, geology, geography, the beauty of the air traffic control system, the fluid that is the atmosphere, engineering, the mathematics we use to help us fly efficiently – those of us that love the interaction of all these disciplines get that much more out of a simple jaunt around the patch of sky over our little airports. If we are ignorant of Science, we miss the subtle underpinning of the workings of the world and our part in it.

Not to worry, though. I’m not saying we don’t enjoy our flight for other reasons like;

Art: These machines have inherent in them the lovely forms that allow function. The sweep of a wing, the curve of a rudder, the symmetry in a well-flown formation, the magic of the deep purple of the terminator as night chases day around us. We fly high and see patterns etched in the earth below us, the roil of the tapestry in the clouds above us, the colors steeped in the very air about us.


This chair in the air is an intimate place from which to watch uninterrupted beauty: the Art of the World.

History: I enjoy most those airplanes designed in the 1920s through 1950s. There was care in the creation of these machines hand-built to give the flyers of the day a passport to a country restless just above the heads of the timid among them. We can feel that as we fly, open cockpit, noise and wind tearing at our attention, infusing our senses with the smell of – well everything. We are uninsulated from our environment yet connected to those hands that welded steel tube or glued spruce into intricate forms for flight. We can feel them there with us though they themselves may be long gone.

These old wings carried heroes across oceans and dark continents, carried villains in black and white across movie screens. They carried an entire populations’ hopes and dreams around the world with them as the pilots in command tested themselves on the grand stage that is the atmosphere.

These old wings are in themselves time machines. We fly down the Mississippi River on a hazy summer day behind a round engine that first fired in 1939 and we cannot find evidence that it is not 1940. We fly a 1929 Travel Air at corn tassel height in Iowa and cannot be convinced the Great American Flying Circus (established 1922) is not waiting for us just over the slight rise ahead. History is stitched into the wings themselves and they invite us to become a part of it.

Sport: My challenge, every flight , is to fly it perfectly. From engine start to shutdown, I seek the smoothest take-off, the most efficient cruise, the most elegant approach, the most beautiful touchdown. When I fly aerobatics, I strive to carve a lovely line with the minimum of brute force. When I soar, I fly an efficient silent ship, thermal to thermal or ridge-line to mountain wave trying to best my time aloft each flight. My longest so far, 5 hrs 35 mins. Until last week, it was my longest flight in any aircraft. Now, a transcontinental flight in a 737 holds that mark. I will try again.

The sport of flying is about the personal challenge of one’s Self to do more than just stay alive – it is the about the picking up of the gauntlet to Be Alive!

Life: I think of the Aviation World as a small one. When I leave the Earth, I am no longer connected to Anyone – but feel as though I am connected to Everyone.

The kid that waves huge waves at me when I circle slowly over her head. She is my friend now. I’ve nudged her life in a very small way in a subtly new direction.

The passenger I flew over glass-smooth water, our wings lit from below by sunset. She never said a word until 12 years later in a postcard thanking me for showing her what her career should be. She is now an airline Captain and in the crazy machinations this career can throw at you – she is senior to me.


Flying has a way of touching Life. There is something in it for everyone that walks the planet with us when we choose to walk. When we choose to fly, we weave patterns irresistible to Fate whose hands then drop quiet suggestion for any witness in reach.

I could go on and on, I suppose, but I want to leave something undiscovered for You to be surprised by, to savor and to share.


Aviation photography http://skybachs.daportfolio.com
Landscapes and portraits http://bachphoto.daportfolio.com/
Skyscapes and more http://rob-bach.daportfolio.com
Entire Collection http://capcloud.deviantart.com/gallery/

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21 Comments for this entry

  • Jon Bach

    More great writing. Favorite pic is the one with the girl. Favorite line is the one with the airline captain, now your senior. Great stuff, bro’.

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  • Derek C

    Wow. That is about the most beautiful description and explanation of flying that I can imagine. Makes me want to take up flying myself and really makes it real as to why those that fly are so extroverted and “above it all”.

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  • Hal Bryan

    Poetry, Rob … as expected.

    Thank you.

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  • cptbach

    It’s all there, Derek. The mathematical geometry of the airspace system overlaid by the fractal flowing forms of the Earth below. There’s the dance of the line we fly through space, the chess game we play against a line of weather.

    Flying is a mirror of Life: what we take in the air, we’ll see reflected back to us to carry as we walk the ground.

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  • abdoulaye ba

    its really interesting , my friend nick , would you mind to send me more

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  • Dangerous Dan

    You speak as you fly Mr. Bach. Eloquently and with a style that is a wonder to watch or read.

    Thank you!

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  • steve koerner

    Very well put. I have often felt exactly what you are writing about. Almost every time I fly. It is a shame that many will never understand the true Joy of flight. I could not put it into words nearly as well as you have. keep up the great work. Steve

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    • cptbach

      Thank you, Steve. If so many will miss the opportunities we’ve had to fly, it is our mission then to share the Gift whenever possible.

      For my part, I try to never leave the ground with an empty seat. Even if it seems inconvenient, it always turns out I have more fun seeing things through THEIR eyes.

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  • Kathy Decker

    Thank you Mr. Bach, for sharing this wonderful story of your expression of flying. Your seat in the sky was well put, more eloquent in eyes of the beholder, for sure you have reached me and given me a direction of my own answers

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  • Dave English

    Rare to have the words and the pictures match so well. Signed up for email updates, and looking forward to more good stuff.

    With winter (and its winds) upon us I think your next longest flight may be a transcon westbound before it’s a long day soaring.

    Dave (A320 captain and sometime soarer)

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    • cptbach

      Long time ago, before there was a book of aviation quotes (and practically before there was a real Internet) we spoke of these things, you and I.

      And here we are still.

      Flying, writing, and searching for Why.

      Nice work.

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      • Dave English

        I remember dial-up and Netscape, and I remember you.

        Sometimes I think the thrill of flying is the magical unlocking our ancient collective unconscious dream of flight, or it’s the flow state where challanges meet abilities in an upward spiral of excellence, or it’s multidimensional freedom. And other times I think I’m just like a happy slobering dog sticking its head out the window of a car.

        From divorced ATR FO living in Wisconsin to newlywed A320 captain soaring in Arizona it’s been a long time since starting a list of aviation quotes. Now I’m collecting less and thinking more. But flying is the constant friend.

        See you in the sky . . .


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  • Hugh Loewenhardt

    Captain Bach, “The Art of Flying” is everthing you say it is and so much more to those who restore old “Chairs in the Air”.

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  • Bette Fineman

    This piece by Rob Bach is as good as any piece of writing ANYONE with the last name of Bach has ever done. I know it chokes up every reader with a soul. Every pilot who has pondered a cloud. If he ever writes a book, the editor will only have to sharpen the blue pencil once.

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  • Bette Fineman

    Very nice Robbie. It makes me want to get the Champ back in the air. (Soon actually!) I especially liked the next to last picture of the biplanes and the blond pony-tailed girl. It reminded me of Beth who should have been 40 in a couple of days. Love, b-Jon.

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    • cptbach

      That little girl was afraid to fly. I sat and talked with her between flights, her mother and brother having flown with me earlier.

      I’d go off with another pair of passengers only to see her still sitting there watching us hop ride after ride.

      Finally, just before sunset, I asked her why she hadn’t left…why was she still perched on the little hill overlooking the activity?

      “Just in case”, she said.

      “In case of what?”, I asked.

      “Just in case I get unscared.”

      So, I told her that the last flight of the day was the best. It was MY ride where I got to do anything I wanted.

      She said, “What do you want?”

      I replied, “I want to take you up there with me!”

      She looked at me matter -of- factly and said, “Then you get what you want.”

      She was too small to see over the side of the front cockpit…and all I saw was her blonde ponytail twisted up in the air like a tornado.

      But she was smiling when we got down… which was payment enough for me.

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  • Dan Yocum

    Indeed, I had to clear my eyes a few times when I read this.

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  • Cathy Mighell

    I printed your words and pictures to hang at my flight school. Beautiful stuff. When people ask my why I fly, I tell them “Any day I fly is better than any other day.” Flying refreshes the mind and spirit and opens up the soul. And I have the joy of helping people discover it every day. Wonderful life! Thanks for expressing it so eloquently.

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  • Mary Knutson-Tim Knutson's Mom

    Tim forwarded your site to me and I enjoyed reading this article. Best flight I ever had was in our JC-3 with my late husband John. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, in the fall with the colored leaves by a railroad tracks near a little town just east of here-New Auburn, WI. We were flying low with the door and window open not far above the locomotive and about the same speed-slow! Of course we caught the eye of the engineer and he blew the whistle and we responded with a waggle of the wings. Took us back in time.

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