Nearly sixty years ago I realized that simply because I was pretty good at math and science . . . and my father and grandfather were engineers . . . and engineering was the gold ticket for young men (and a few very independent women) . . . didn’t mean I had to be an engineer. I was at the end of my second year of college and realized there was a whole world of knowledge beyond slide rules and laboratories . . . and I wanted in.
Switching from engineering to business was big. Not only was I facing a long list of new requirements, I was beginning my third year and had no idea where I was going.
Of course this first semester in a new discipline included all the 101 courses: accounting, marketing, management, sales, etc. Lucky for me I drew one professor that “got me.” After class one day, he asked what my major was. At the ripe old age of 20, the only thing I knew (other than partying) was that I wanted to learn about as many different things as possible. Recognizing that engineering included tons of math, he pointed out that I’d only need three more statistics courses to complete a major. The rest would be electives!
I was in clover. Statistics was like a sandbox and I was free to take almost anything I wanted. That evening I grabbed a college catalog. They were like phone directories back then – three pounds of detailed course descriptions in alphabetical order: Art, accounting, astronomy, AVIATION!
Just a year earlier, while in Air Force ROTC, our captain asked if any of us wanted to take a plane ride. “Pick me! Pick me!” He did, but on the way to the airport we could see that the clouds were low. We might not fly today. Stalwart pilot that he was, we took off only to discover that we had to circle right back and land. But even from the back seat, as soon as we left the ground something inside me changed forever.
Back to the catalog: Completion of Aviation 101 not only earned three hours of academic credit, it included a PILOT LICENSE. Labs were at the airport and cost an extra $450 – including flying. I was all in.
Every Tuesday and Thursday on the way to the airport, I’d watch the treetops. If I could see leaves moving, the winds were too high for student pilots.
Even bad days were special. They meant ground school: learning about navigation, preflight planning and weather. Maybe even flying the Link trainer – a closed box with nothing but controls and gauges. How bad could this be – I was at the airport and learning to fly.
Every academic course I’ve taken has come into play at some point in my life. But none has been as big as flying. Now sixty years later, I’ve flown five thousand hours in more than fifty different kinds of planes and earned ratings including airline pilot and multi-engine instructor. I’ve even taught others to fly. And I’ve collected scores of stories which I’ll share with anyone who’ll listen or (spoiler alert) read.
Oh, and statistics classes have proven valuable, too. I know that if you look closely, you’ll discover the statistics you see are carefully crafted, not to inform, but to prove the author’s point. It’s true: There are lies, damn lies . . . and statistics. Even aviation statistics.