September 29, 2016
The Afternoon I Learned to Fly a PlaneWhen I was younger, my Dad was an amateur pilot. One time, he took us up for a flight, and when he'd got us up in the air and on our way - on a lovely calm and clear day - he let me take the controls for a little while. I remember after we landed being cockahoop that I'd learned how to "fly a plane".
Imagine, now, that I harboured ambitions to start my own airline. The only barrier to this plan is that I'm not a pilot, and hiring pilots is expensive. But, fear not, because - remember - on that calm and clear summer afternoon I learned how to "fly a plane".
Sure, I didn't learn how to take off. Or how to land. Or how to navigate. Or what to do when visibility is poor, or when the skies are choppy. And I didn't learn what all the knobs and dials and switches do, or what it means when that particular red light is blinking and what I should do in response. I didn't learn about basic aerodynamics, or how aeroplanes work or which bits of the plane do what, and how to check that everything's working before I take off. I didn't learn about the fuel the plane uses, where to get some, and how to calculate how much fuel I might need for my journey. I didn't learn how to land in an emergency. I didn't learn about speaking to air traffic control, nor how to use the radio for any purpose. I didn't learn about flight plans, or how to read aviation charts. I didn't learn about "air corridors", or about CAA rules.
But I had flown a plane, and was therefore surely only a couple more lessons away from being a pilot. I mean, it's easy. You just hold the steering wheel and keep the nose of the plane pointing to where you want to go. Right? What's that? It's called a "yoke"? Okay, I didn't learn that either.
This is all absurd, of course. It takes many hours of experience, and much study, before you're safe to be in charge of an aeroplane. There's so much that can go wrong, and you can't just pull over on to the hard shoulder when it does. when I had control, there was a qualified, experienced pilot sitting right next to me, and - in reality - he was in control. He talked me through it all the way, and if necessary could take over at a second's notice. I just did exactly what he told me to do.
But if I were a cynical opportunist, I might exploit this initial moment of euphoria that I experienced to make me believe that I can fly a plane. I can see the ads now: "Thinking of starting an airline? Why pay for expensive so-called 'pilots' when anyone can learn to fly on our 1-day course." This would be an exemplary commercialisation of the Dunning-Kruger effect: they don't know that they haven't learned to fly a plane, and we ain't about to tell them.
What that short flight with Dad did do, though, was get us excited about learning to fly. So much so, that for a good few years it was my brother's primary ambition to be a pilot.
A course claiming to teach you to fly in a day - or even an hour - would end up in court, of course. Grown-ups know it just isn't as simple as holding the stick and going in a straight line for 5 minutes.
So, why don't grown-ups know this about writing software?
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago on September 29, 2016