It’s a pilot’s job to fly, but the last thing you want is a flighty pilot. To be flighty, according to Webster, is to be fickle, volatile, or capricious. None of these are particularly good qualities when flying an airplane. In fact, much pilot training is designed specifically to resist these tendencies.
It is true in all phases of flight, but most pertinent when landing. The key to a successful landing, it is said ad nauseum, is a stable approach. Stability, not volatility, is what you want in an airplane, and by direct extension, its pilot.
Yet, airplanes can be too stable. My Diamond is an example of an airplane designed for stability, with long wings and an oversized T-tail and rudder. It descends from gliders, which—having no internal source of thrust to bail it out of sudden wind shifts, must be designed to resist volatility. The problem is that—sometimes, stability can work against you, as when you attempt to make a quick, sharp turn, or land in my home airport of Santa Paula, which many pilots have likened to getting in and out of a sardine can. My Austro-Canadian sardine really doesn’t want to make the sharp turns required of getting itself into the can, so it takes considerably more effort on the part of the pilot to fight the sardine’s tendency to swim straight ahead towards freedom.
To call someone flighty is usually not a compliment. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard it that way. It isn’t a particularly valued trait, in this or any other culture I know of. People want to know where they stand, and they don’t like fickleness or unpredictability, unless they can dictate the time and place. In other words, we value unpredictability when we can predict it. Safety, in humans, seems to trump adventure.
But life without unpredictability, of course, would not be a life much worth living. As humans are safety-seeking, we are also novelty-seeking, because it is through novelty that we learn and grow, and learning and growing in its wonderfully circular fashion eventually makes us safer. But ultimately, it is about landing safely.
Flighty is an adjective we usually hear attributed to women. Men can be flighty as well, but they are usually called “silly” or “undependable.” “Silly” is okay if it happens briefly and doesn’t get out of control, but “undependable” is usually a deal-killer. At the risk of over-generalizing, women often want men to keep them safe, and men just want women to keep them.
The chief complaint I hear from women who are trying to find a male partner is that they are boring. Stable is good, and very necessary, especially on approach. Confidence, I am told, is a big turn-on. But too much stability in a relationship leads to the kind of stultifying ennui that motivates the other to find adventure in dodgy pastures.
Flying, unto itself, is a risky adventure, because humans were not designed for it, so we are fighting nature the whole way. To fly is to fight nature in the same way the philosopher Merleau-Ponty said that we owe our existence to our resistance to the world. It is not whether we fly or not, or whether we fight or flee, but rather how we do it that matters, and we can do it with too much stability, be boring, dependable, and fail to turn before the mountain hits us in the nose, or too much flightiness, and guarantee ourselves a trip on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. As in all things, the trick to flying is to find a middle way, the right combination of gentle and firm. And ultimately, that is the most likely path to a safe and fulfilled life.