For those that have to look up…..

As an aviation enthusiast, the people of the world are divided into two groups.  Those that have to look up and those that don’t.

child lying on a grass field

I am somewhat blessed in my neighborhood.  I have a small municipal airport to the northeast as well as two military bases not too far away.  Not so close to be a nuisance, but close enough to provide regular entertainment.  If you happen to spend a day on an outdoor project on the weekend and you pay attention you can see a lot.  Twice a day a jetfighter will go ripping by high overhead.  You have to work to find it because the sound and the jet are not in the same place.  During fire season the big C-130’s will go rumbling by far on the horizon.  If you’re lucky on a Sunday you might see a group of four V-tailed aircraft flying in tight formation (wow, who gets to do that!!).  In spring the CAF comes to town and all day long they fly trips with B-25’s, B-17’s and occasionally P-51 Mustangs.  Very little yard work gets done on those days.  Of course not all the entertainment is motorized.  We get flocks of canadian geese flying in very disciplined “vic” formations.  A treat for those that really pay attention is when the Sandhill Cranes come to town.  They fly at 3,000 to 5,000 ft. so you can barely hear them, you almost think you are imagining it and you have to squint your eyes to find them.


My favorite “looking up” story was when I was playing in the surf in San Diego at Swami’s Beach on a crowded summer day.  A P51 Mustang came ripping along the coast at maybe 100 feet above the water.  My jaw dropped, I started blabbering like an idiot to a young man next to me  trying to explain the history of the fighter and what a rare treat he had just experienced.  He was polite enough, but probably thought I was  little deranged.


So why do we look up?  A hobbiest’s interest?  The thrill of flight?  The suprise of what you might see?  Probably a bit of all three but there is something a bit primal in it, not unlike watching the night sky for shooting stars.  It is unique because you are both appreciating the natural  beauty of the sky and clouds, but also the machines and the men and women flying them.  Most of us keep our feet on the ground 99% of the time, but when we watch someone else fly it lifts our spirits and gives us a thrill as we imagine ourselves weaving through the clouds.

Sometimes people have to look up for different reasons.

I had a unique experience this week visiting a recently completed Children’s Hospital. They had an MRI room that was specifically designed for small children.  MRI’s are large frightening machines.  They make noise.  If you are a child and you need an MRI something very serious is going on in your life.  Generally you have to sit still for an extended period of time ( and we all know how much children love having to do that!!)…. most likely lying on your back looking up at the ceiling.  The designer for this room tried to make the room less frightening by making it look like a forest with blue walls, cove lighting, murals of grass, trees and squirrels.


The special touch that caught my eye was in the ceiling right over the platform.  A small video screen was built into the ceiling and it projected a view of the sky.  It was framed with green tree tops, what you might expect to see if you flopped down in the grass in a forest and look up at the sky.  Three Fokker Dr1’s did a slow, silent dance, swooping, diving in a random circuit.  It was calming, mesmerizing and was intended to distract a child from the fear and intimidation of their procedure.  In a sense the designer was trying to distract you from the cold steel beast of an MRI machine by observing animations of machines made of wood and canvas from an earlier era.  More subtley the designer attempted to tap into a bit of the “wonder” that attracts people to look up in the first place in a setting where a child has no choice but to do the same.  My jaw dropped when I saw this too, just like at Swami’s Beach.  Among men and women in business suits I grabbed my i-phone and started filming the animation.  I pointed out to the tour guide that these planes are Fokker Dr1’s, the same planes flown by Baron Von Richtofen and the Flying Circus.  Once again he was polite enough, but I think he thought I was a bit deranged.

I made a short video so you could appreciate it (added the audio because I couldn’t resist).  Hopefully you will never need to see it in person, but the designer tapped into something that will resonate with anyone who considers themselves among “those that have to look up”.


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