If I were brave enough, or cool enough, or special enough (and if I weren't colour blind) I would be a pilot, because pilots are the greatest men alive. I don't mean pilots that just fly those little planes around at the weekend for a laugh and sometimes end up upside-down in fields, I mean proper, commercial airline pilots. They are the coolest men in the world. If I were a woman, I would marry one. To be honest, I would probably marry one anyway. They have moustaches. Not all of them, but a lot of them do. And in the same way that firemen have moustaches but don't look stupid, so do airline pilots. Because they are legends. Moustachioed, calm-under-pressure, legends with nerves of steel and come to bed eyes. Actually ignore that last bit I got distracted.
Thanks to my fear of flying, which results in amusing things like my having to take anti-anxiety tablets in order to force myself crying onto an aeroplane, I tend to finish any journey by air with a shaky-legged walk down the cabin to the exit, tears running down my face, followed by a glance toward the heroes in the cockpit that says, "I love you. Thank you for getting me here safely, and for being so bloody amazing at flying and stuff. I would kiss you passionately, but presumably I would be arrested and forcibly taken away somewhere." Which is quite a lot to convey in a single look while you're doing that 'Thanks, bye' thing to the stewardesses on your way out.
Pilots have always been the subject of hero-worship. From our flying aces in World War Two to the 'Spam in a can" test pilots for the Apollo space program, these airbourne nutcases have crazily shot themselves into the air while we ordinary folk cast our eyes skyward, all too aware of how fragile life is. But not pilots.
Some people these days reckon that planes basically fly themselves. That it's all 'fly-by-wire' and all the pilots are needed for is to flirt with stewardesses and to speak very slowly about the weather in Majorca in a crackly voice over the tannoy system. To those people, I say (and with all due respect) you are talking bollocks. Pilots fly the planes, not computers. If something goes wrong on a flight that I'm on, then I want a pilot to sort it out, or even better, two pilots. Not a jumped-up Speak and Spell with a death-wish. Plus computers can't have moustaches.
If you want an example of why pilots are better than computers, take one of the greatest men ever to have lived in my opinion - Captain Chelsea Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III (pictured above), who apart from having the most American name ever (and a moustache) executed what many believe to be the most technically gifted emergency landing in the history of aviation. When a flock of Canadian geese hit the engines of US Airways flight 1549 just after take off from La Guardia New York on January 19th 2009, taking out both engines completely, Captain Sully didn't hesitate. Despite being cleared to land at a nearby airport, he realised they weren't going to make it and calmly told air traffic controllers they would be "in the Hudson (river)".
So that's what he did. He landed a plane with no engines on a river, with no fatalities among the 155 passengers, and only 5 injuries. Once everyone was off, Sully walked up and down the partly-submerged plane alone twice to check nobody was left, and then casually stepped onto a lifeboat. What an absolute legend. A computer couldn't have done that. Computers don't have legs.
Incidentally you can read a fascinating account of the Miracle on the Hudson here, and while you're at it have a listen to the actual audio after the impact up until landing. Sully isn't fussed at all. His voice sounds like he was playing Temple Run on his iPhone while casually being the only man in the history of commercial aviation to successfully land a passenger plane on water.
This is the kind of event that makes me love pilots, with a fervour that I usually reserve for my own family or Coco Pops. They are just the finest examples of manliness I can think of; throwbacks to a time where men rode horses and smoking was good for you and you had to chop wood with your shirt off.
These men (and women of course, I'm focusing on the male pilots here because I'm a plane-obsessed boy and therefore confused about my sexuality and testosterone levels) gladly accept responsibility for all of us every time we set foot on an aeroplane, and they deliver us safely to our holiday destinations, or to rarely-seen family members time and time again. They do it for less money a year than most Premier League footballers earn in a week. So next time you sit back and feel the roar of the engines outside the window as you're whisked off to the sunshine, remember the men and women sat up front getting you there. They're only human after all.
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