Sunday, 7 March 2010

Designated Pilot Examiner

I've made the decision to pursue my FAA Pilot Examiner designation. It's akin to marking the day one chooses to get in shape; nothing has really happened. A goal has been placed on the board. That's it.

The decision is just the start of a multi-year process, and it could well be a fruitless pursuit. Pilot Examiner designations are awarded based on two factors: first, on the FSDO's need; second, on the applicant's qualifications and how well he/she fits that specific need. Everything could go well during the application process, and I could still be shut out by low demand in the Central Florida area.

The process starts by submitting an application to the National Examiner Board. Completing the application will be a challenge in itself; precise logbook records are required. For years, I've kept my logs electronically, not even in a spreadsheet but a simple text file. Those will need to be transposed into written form. It's a daunting challenge -- not in terms of difficulty, but of sheer, blunt effort. I will be scribbling in my logbooks for days.

It is my understanding that approximately 250 applications are submitted each year. That's not a huge number, but I already know from experience that Central Florida is somewhat saturated with DPEs. The training industry here has been badly impacted by the (all-too-familiar) terrible economic conditions which have wreaked havoc across our nation. We once had a thriving community of instructors and examiners here; now, many are gone, some are surviving, and the rest are starving.

This will take a long time. I fully expect that the best case scenario is 3-4 years, but more probable is a 5-6 year cycle -- if I'm fortunate enough to be selected. Hopefully, a combination of tailwheel, jet and overall piston experience will fit the mold of what the FSDO needs in my area.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

If You Had Wings

"If You Had Wings" was nothing much by today's entertainment standards -- just a ride at Walt Disney World which closed in 1987 after a 15-year run. It was one of the park's inaugural attractions. Sponsored by Eastern, IYHW was an exciting glimpse into worlds beyond everyday life, and what wonders might be wrought by winged flight.

Growing up in Central Florida, I've had my fair share of opportunities to visit Disney World, and I rode "If You Had Wings" many times as a child. I loved everything about it, starting with the futuristic airline terminal-styled queue area, the images of seagulls transforming into sleek Eastern L-1011s, and even the music.

"If you had wings, had wings... If you had wings, had wings, had wings..."

It was corny and repetitive, but the message was so earnest and uncomplicated that you couldn't help but buy in. The ride started by climbing aboard an omnimover. Disney employees, dressed as Eastern stewards and stewardesses (different era, people... different era) helpfully escorted you to your seat while walking in place on a moving walkway. The airline terminal melted away as you became enveloped by darkness; and just like that, you were globe-trotting. Ports of call included Mexico City, Puerto Rico, New Orleans and many Caribbean destinations.

I always looked forward to two things: first, the 'speed room' in which the rider watched several scenes of high-speed first-person action, one of them from the nose of a jet during takeoff. Second, a scene in which you could peer down and see a group of children and young adults swimming in a tropical reef. The illusion was created by projectors, so in the dark (the entire ride was dark so the film imagery could work) the water seemed to glow. It seemed very real to a child; the effect would probably be laughable now. I loved the notion that I could be up here, gliding effortlessly in the sky, enjoying my own dream, and down there was another world, another set of lives, happy families living and playing together.

Looking back, I realize that my dream of flying began with IYHW. It was a gentle, upbeat, innocent experience which would be completely incongruous with society as we know it today. Airline travel is certainly not glamorous any longer; instead, it is just a hair shy of intolerable. And the utopian 70s vision of the future is gone, replaced by materialism, sex and violence on the TV during dinnertime, and a lack of interest in human exploration. Hell, our manned space program was just canceled last month... and there wasn't a protest to be heard.

Instead, IYHW sent its travelers off with a beautiful conclusion. Just before deboarding, a strong but optimistic voice reverberated through the final mirror room:

"You do have wings. You can do all of these things. You can widen your world." And the emphasis, so powerful, so important, on 'You do'... 'You can'. (Listen here.)

Of course, it's been gone for a long time now; the ride was changed when Eastern dropped its sponsorship in 1987, just two years prior to their inevitable bankruptcy. It came back in a couple of alternate forms -- first, "If You Could Fly," then "Delta DreamFlight." Neither had the original's charm.

Today, the space once occupied by IYHW now houses Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I know because I rode it with my kids last week, and I realized as we arrived at the entrance to the structure itself that it was once IYHW. There's no trace left, except that the track layout has not changed (the direction the cars travel is reversed). It was this realization that prompted me to go online and seek some record or recollection of what sparked my dream to fly.

Surprisingly, I'm not the only one to have fond memories of a ride that no one seemed to care much about when it was a working attraction in the park. First, here's a video which takes you on the ride from start to finish. It certainly jogged some memories for me:

And it also turns out that there are websites dedicated to its memory.

As an adult, I still look down -- this time from a real flight deck -- and see the occasional lighted pool under a warm Florida sunset, and am reminded of the scene from IYHW. I am up here... I do have wings... I can do all of these things...

IYHW, wherever you are, whatever you are, rest easy. And thank you.