We are the .2%

It is a simple fact: there are currently only 664,565 active pilots in the United States. At a population of 328.2 million people in the United States, that is about .2% of the population of the U.S.

In an era when "the 1%" is among the very top of all epithets and the wealthy scorned for their wealth, being part of an elite club is not a little passé and being part of the 99% is next to godliness.

But we pilots are even more exclusive than the 1%, and I am at once unashamed to be a part of that club and highly aware of the privilege of getting to slip the surly bonds almost daily. We may not be Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk rich (and I for one would buy and fly one of these if I was!), but we are far more privileged than their ilk by being able to commune with Bernoulli and take to the skies.

The price of entry to this club can be almost alarmingly inexpensive. I think of the ultralight pilot and his Legal Eagle who spends next to nothing on his hobby but the moment lift exceeds weight is a member of one of the most elite clubs in the world. This is particularly remarkable considering what far more people  spend on a boat or a new truck. Even for the doctors and lawyers in their Bonanza or Cirrus, once they arrive at the airport, they are at once transported to a different kind of club, and elevated to a special one more unique than their day jobs. Incidentally, there are fewer pilots than doctors or lawyers in the United States.

Whatever group the recreational pilot falls into, the effort, focus, and energy required to become a pilot and maintain currency is something to be enormously proud of. No shame here in being part of the .2%

Even when it is work, flying is a great privilege. On a particularly busy or difficult sortie for my students I will often take the plane and give them nothing to do for a few minutes at cruise except look out the window, reminding them never to forget to pause and enjoy the view and remember what a great deal we have.   

When flying for work, sometimes it really does feel like work when certain pressures suck the joy out of the sheer thrill of setting takeoff rated thrust, but one only need pause for a short moment and reconnect with that visceral sensation that is the source of the joy of flying. We all got into it for different reasons, but only a fool goes through the effort and expense to become a pilot and never enjoys a moment of it. There is always the thrill to return to to remind us.

I say it to myself all the time: I can't believe I get paid to do this. The other day as we were flying over a traffic jam it occurred to me how fortunate I am to get paid to do this, thinking of how many millions of people woke up that morning and drove an hour to a job they hate only to sit in their car going the other direction at the end of a generally unenjoyable and unfulfilling work day.

What a different story it is for those who fly. There are hard days at work, there are frustrations with ATC, supervisors, weather, maintenance, and the rest. But once the cockpit door closes and the engines are started, there really is next to nothing that can impede on the sheer joy and--I will say it one last time--privilege of being a pilot and going flying.


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