Cap’n Aux’s Ultimate—and Ultimately Shattered—Aviation Dream

For most pilots struggling up the aviation ladder, their singular focus is on their loftiest dream:  to become an airline Captain.  To have a fighting chance of getting there, they must endure years of food stamp wages, of studio apartment “crash pads” shared with six other similar pilot-dreamers; of Top Ramen meals, washed down with Pabst Blue Ribbon—just like college—but for six, or ten, or a dozen or more years.  They must endure 6 on/1 off days of 8-leg, 16-hour, back-side-of-the-clock shifts, in ear-splitting pistons, freighters, or turboprops.
I know I did.  All for the ultimate dream of, one day, maybe, just maybe, having a shot at flying for a major airline. 
And, God willing, if you actually got hired by a major, and that company actually stayed in business long enough…mayhaps you could even make it to the fabled Left Seat.  
The standing joke in the cockpit is, You’re not a real pilot till you’ve been divorced, furloughed and through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
I’m a real pilot.  Twice over.  Two divorces, two furloughs, three Chapter 11’s and even one Chapter 7—doors closed for good…
Looking back, however, I know I was more lucky than good.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is aviation’s real “Right Stuff.”  Oh, yes, you need perseverance, determination, focus.  And money, don’t forget.  Lots and lots of money, thrown at a dream that will most likely fail.  But, above all, it takes pure luck.
Ultimately, I was one of the lucky few. 
And yet, ironically, the Left Seat has never been my ultimate aviation dream.
I dared to dream higher.  
Much higher.
What, you may ask, could possibly be loftier than the left seat of a jet airliner?
Oh, you lowly mortals, who dream such pitiful, petty dreams!
Many pilots, engineers and scientists were inspired by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the Apollo moonshots.  Many NASA scientists and astronauts, in turn, often list “Star Trek” as their original inspiration.  But for me, ever since the movie “Airplane!”* debuted in 1980, I have known a singular purpose in life.
Sadly, however, on November 10, 2010, my dream was shattered.  I never did—and now never will—achieve my ultimate aviation dream.  For, on November 10, 2010, the airline industry lost one of its most revered icons.
Leslie Nielsen, star of “Airplane!,” died.
For my life’s dream has been this one thing:  to have Leslie Nielsen poke his head into my cockpit before flight and announce, in pure, Lesliesque deadpan, “I just wanted to tell you both, good luck.  We’re all counting on you.”
I would have flown my flight.  A perfect, error-free, baby’s butt-smooth ride for my First Class passenger Mr. Nielsen, nailed a “roller” landing, set the parking brake and walked off that plane, retired.  Never to fly again.
And, dare I dream, a baggage cart would have run me over, killing me instantly.   
I know, I know, you’re saying, Eric, surely you can’t be serious!
Yes I am serious.

“Airplane!” Trivia:  Most of the movie’s jokes were based on the disaster movie, “Zero Hour.”
Leslie Nielsen’s bio can be found here.

*To this day, over 30 years after its release, Airplane” is still quoted in cockpits around the world.
Roger.  Over.