It’s the first gray light of a cool spring morning. Green grass is stained silver with heavy dew and thin mist sits low in still air.
The only sound at the little airport is rubber tires rolling slowly on wet asphalt as I push the Piper Cub out of its hangar. Its glossy doped fabric wings and body are brilliant warm yellow against the dark pavement and shady trees.
Wooden propeller blades spin into a swishing blur as the little Continental comes alive, carefully parting the sacred silence without shattering it. In a few moments, we’re flying along low and slow over the countryside, circling and swooping over pastures and trees as the rising sun chases the last shadows of night from the land.
We’re in no hurry. When we finally land a little less than an hour later, the sun is full up and the airport is wide awake. The mechanic greets me as I push the Cub back into its hangar. He’s a good mechanic, and friendly, and I’m glad I hired him a few years ago.
Once the kids are off to school, my wife joins me at the airport. She sits behind the desk at our FBO, and she does a great job taking care of everyone who stops by or calls into our little place.
There is work to do today. This morning, a man is coming to look at and test fly an airplane I’m brokering. A light twin on a cross-country will be stopping for fuel and lunch. And I’ll have a couple of students to fly later in the afternoon. In between all that I’ll be replacing burned-out runway lights, mowing grass, and doing other odd jobs to keep the field running smoothly.
Of course this never happened. Not yet, anyway. I’ve never flown a Piper Cub, and my job right now is far from Professional Hangar Bum and Manager of a pastoral airport. It’s just a dream.
To be a pilot, though, is to be a dreamer. Moving people or goods by air may be justifiable economically, and sometimes necessary to reach remote locations. But to become an aviator is a solemn act of romantic impracticality. It requires devotion, effort, and fiscal expense far beyond any reasonable expectation of return.
Economists use the term “opportunity cost” to describe what one gives up by choosing one thing over another. Thinking this way, there’s always something better to do than be a pilot. Most of the time, this logic prevails. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who tell me “I’ve always wanted to fly, but” it’s too expensive, they don’t have the money. The list goes on, but the central factor is there was always something else, something more practical, to spend their money on. Life gets in the way of dreams.
But what, precisely, is the opportunity cost of a dream?