Aviation Flying And Motorcycling | Megaphone

A tale of two cultures

You'd think that general-aviation flying and motorcycling would have vastly different constituents. After all, flying is a calculated, cerebral undertaking, requiring considerable planning and rigorous training. Motorcycling is more get-on-and-go, and vastly more accessible. Yet there's enormous crossover between the disciplines.

Having worked on airplane and motorcycle magazines, thus making flying and riding a big part of my life, I can tell you the similarities-and differences-are striking. Here's the good news: You have it better than you think.

A common element between these two cultures is something known in pop psychology as the Type-A personality. Pilots and motorcycle riders place priority on being in control, having their destinies in their own hands. Just as a motorcycle left alone will fall over (unless you remember to put the stand down), an airplane once airborne will eventually crash (unless you remember to make the landing).

Naysayers suggest that private flying and motorcycling are unacceptably risky. Pilots and motorcyclists recognize the risks involved and attempt to mitigate them by good planning, training and the proper mindset. By seeking to eliminate the most obvious risks-in motorcycling it's to not drink and ride, and in flying it's a matter of keeping enough fuel in the tanks to make it to your destination-we can dramatically increase our safety margins.

Even then, riding a motorcycle is generally riskier than driving a car, and flying a small airplane is riskier than taking the airlines. So why do we persist? Simple. The rewards. Seeing the country from a small airplane is a joyous experience. You notice so much more from 2000 or 10,000 feet than you ever could from 30,000-plus feet in a Boeing. You can choose your traveling companions, and you won't lose your luggage. It's much the same for motorcyclists, where the journey is often more important than the destination. Our perspective on the world is bolstered by a far more immediate connection with it. You can smell freshly mown grass and feel the temperature change from valley to ridgeline.

Two main issues greatly differentiate flying from riding: training and affordability. In flying, the magazines run extensive training stories and publish anecdotes from readers about their close calls. Airplane accidents are right on the table, dissected by the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board for all to see. We, in motorcycling, focus more on tips to ride better, and the burgeoning track-school industry is a sign that more riders are ready to take their schooling off the street and onto the track.

Where motorcycling has it all over general aviation is in accessibility and affordability. Put simply, flying is breathtakingly expensive. Just to get a basic license costs roughly $5000, and you don't get true mobility until you've added a rating that lets you fly in clouds (another $3000 to $4000) and then gain enough experience to rent a reasonably quick and capable airplane (another $2000). And owning an airplane should only be considered where there's a strong business (read: tax-deductible) application or a slew of partners. A new, single-engine piston aircraft is a $400,000 proposition these days.

Much of the high cost of flying has to do with government intervention, a great deal of which, in my opinion, adds only expense and paperwork-but not real safety. All aircraft must pass rigorous certification procedures and must be meticulously built. In addition, a licensed mechanic (who's spent more than four years learning the ropes to be paid next to nothing for his trouble) must maintain your airplane using parts available often from just one or two sources. Agonizingly high costs are the rule.

In the end, I find riding more gratifying than flying. Done right, a flight in a light airplane is boring. You plan and train to stay out of bad weather, to avoid turbulence, and to have enough fuel to make it home. Most of the time you're sitting there, with the autopilot doing the actual flying, keeping an eye on the big picture and looking well ahead for something to avoid. The "thrill" is in the survival.

Motorcycling is far more immediate, in the moment, and, as a result, vastly more engaging. So if you think that all flying is like Top Gun (it isn't) or that pilots lead a more glamorous life (they don't), take a moment to appreciate that you, as a rider, get 90 percent of the visceral thrills and take-control biofeedback at a fraction of the cost or heartburn. You've got it good.