This Blog’s Title

In the many years I have been writing this blog, no one has pointed out that its title, “Clear for Takeoff,” is a misnomer.  Frankly, I thought I would be busted early on, because people in the aviation world like to be know-it-alls.  Trying to come up with the title, I thought it made sense to use something pilots hear in their headsets just before departing the earth.  But controllers don’t actually say “clear for takeoff” (though for years I did think that was what they were saying).  Instead, they say “cleared for takeoff,” prefaced by your airplane’s identifier.  I am not certain of the grammar of it, because they are both sentence fragments, spoken undoubtedly with the assumption that the first half of the sentence is extraneous.   

In my headset, before nearly every flight at a towered airport, I hear the words: “Diamond Star One Romeo Alpha, Cleared for Takeoff.”  It’s my cue to look for traffic, advance the throttle, roll past the runway hold short line, turn to the center line, angle my ailerons into the wind, tease the rudder petals back and forth to awaken my feet, check that the flaps are set correctly and glance at the heading indicator, all within a few seconds, release the brakes and advance the throttle gently (but firmly) to the firewall.  

This is the thrill that is paired, as Pavlov would have us say, with the words “cleared for takeoff.”   If I were wearing my Garmin watch, I’m sure it would show a quick increase in heartrate as the old heart muscle flutters in anticipation, like a dog lifting her head and opening her eyes wide when she hears, “let’s take a walk!”

But “cleared for takeoff” as a title was someone else’s blog, I think, at least at the time this one came to fruition.   And while I knew full well that I was violating any sense of accuracy, I did like the sound of “clear for takeoff,” as if the infinitive form of the word clear connoted something slightly more spiritual.   Not at all a nod to Scientology, mind you, where going “clear” has implications of transcendence, as well as a significant capital expenditure.   More like the allegorical lyric in reggae time:  I can see clearly now; the rain has gone.

There are, of course, a host of other phrases pilots are accustomed to hearing on nearly every flight.   Just as the heart twitters in excitement to hear the words “cleared for takeoff,” there is an incipient serenity, accompanied by an unwitting exhalation, when a pilot hears the words “clear to land.”   Yup, you guessed it.  I seldom if ever hear the parallel “cleared to land.”   Maybe I have, and it just sounds like “clear to land.”  I don’t think so, though.  Why it is exactly that I am cleared for takeoff but am short two letters on landing I don’t know.    (Maybe there’s a physics principle having to do with losing letters in proportion to fuel depletion.)  

On nearly every flight in which you are talking to controllers at all (there is no requirement that you do if you are flying visually in certain airspace), you will inevitably hear the 3-word phrase “frequency change approved.”   That, I imagine, might also be a great blog title, and probably someone has used it already, but I am at a coffee shop and too lazy to get up and get the internet code, so I will probably never know.  

I am going to tell you something about those three words, “frequency change approved,” because I already wrote it and for now it’s right below these words on the screen.   But the additional four paragraphs make this post too long to be readable in the short amount of time we all have these days to read anything, given how computers and Sesame Street and post-modernism has melted our brains.

So perhaps next week I’ll share those paragraphs with you, but presently I will pretend I am an air traffic controller and I have some say with what you do with your precious time, and tell you, somewhat wistfully and without entirely feigned kindness, you’re “cleared for the option.”