I used to be so scared of flying that I would sit on a plane and breathe in a bag to deal with an anxiety attack. I forced myself to travel for business, but each flight was such a high-stress event that I would feel depleted, as if I had run a marathon. I felt as if I had to hold the plane in the air by sheer willpower the entire flight.
A little while ago, however, I started venturing out to shake things up a bit. I heard it does happen to people when they approach 40 – when a realization virtual roundtables that life is not a dress rehearsal becomes more than just an intellectual understanding. I did all kinds of things – from climbing in tree tops, training in tactical driving, shooting machine guns, and storming a building, to then riding my first rollercoaster in Busch Gardens this August. My desire to push the envelope started out as a mind over matter thing that I do a lot to push through 18-hour work days. It morphed into curiosity as to how the subject matter experts I work with in government proposals do their jobs, and then grew into a desire to step out of a daily mold. Finally, it all turned into the ardent desire to live my life to the fullest.
Flying was a tough one, though. I did get a lot better as over the years by using online courses and pep-talks from anyone who didn’t suffer from the same phobia in order to learn their techniques and cure myself of the fear, but it only took me so far.
So, last week I went to Reno to offer our course, Business Development for Project Personnel, to one of our customers, a company that provides military aviation experts, including TOPGUNs, former Fighter Weapons School commanders, and test pilots. They are as elite of warriors as the Navy SEALs, but specialize in flying – they train military forces in the U.S. and allied countries in operationally current advanced flight training, tactics development and evaluation, etc. They were also the first western commercial company trained to maintain and operate the Ukrainian SU-27, a twin-engine super-maneuverable fighter aircraft that they ultimately imported to the U.S.
Training super-bright students is always rewarding, but the setting for this training mission turned out to be simply unbelievable. The hotel-casino where I was staying was as noisy as a beehive with the arrival of desert dust-covered Burning Man crowds. They were still in their costumes, smelling of cannabis and booze, and high on life and assorted stimulants.
At an epicenter of an After-Burn party, I didn’t get much sleep from the noise. However, I did witness a slew of characters including a guy in a peacock hat and a silvery trench coat (with apparently nothing under) who flashed me as I walked by. Not too far from the hotel was a Great Reno Balloon Race, with a mesmerizing display of colors and patterns. The Tailhook Convention, a famous event where naval aviators and the supporting industry network over beer, wine, and flying toy monkeys, topped off the week. All of it was going on as the Stead Airfield near the company that manufactures military aircraft’ offices was filling up with colorful airplanes for the insanely dangerous, but exhilarating National Championship Air Races about to start.