Ever since man has taken to the air, flight has exerted a strong, almost irresistible, appeal on many to follow a life of flying—not only to allow it to be more than just a hobby, but to make it one’s avocation. Many who have followed this call have written of this journey and how they pursued the various forms of flying – their first flight, their first job flying for hire, and a look back at their career.
In The Outer Whorl, Essays by an Airline Pilot, Neal Schier takes a slightly different tact in recounting his pursuit of flying, because paradoxically, flight itself was just one of the attractions that led him to follow the call that so many before him had heeded. His path was not the simple, almost linear progression, which has marked many aviators’ careers. Neal, in a continuum of twenty related essays, examines the unease of a quotidian life in a sterile office and the desperation that set in at a young age to pursue something outside of a normal career path. To see the world and learn of one’s strengths and weaknesses while forging a profound appreciation for his fellow crew members.
Through this pursuit came a deep appreciation for the allure inherent in aviation and a respect for the uncertainty that flits and flickers behind the beautiful mask that flight wears. This appreciation extends far beyond just the attraction of flight however, as he charts the admiration of strength and resolve that he finds in his fellow pilots, flight attendants, and other airline employees after the horrors of 9/11—an admiration won by the close work in an airliner’s cockpit during hours of fatigue, stress, and challenge.
Introspectively, but not solipsistically so, Neal traces his development first as a military aviator and then as a commercial airline pilot. His nontechnical writing puts the reader alongside him in the cockpit as a witness to the mind-set of a pilot as he charts a course around the world—a course that often leads to self-examination and what one learns about self and others. His narrative details what it was like to lose nearly twenty years of work as his airline struggled with bankruptcy and near liquidation. He raises the question if the turbulence of the career was worth the years of sacrifice and dedication and thus, touches on an idea that thousands of the wondering and wandering souls of aviation continue to ask. His reflection and memories bring a surprising answer that is framed from the recurring themes of beauty, appreciation, and admiration.
Neal Schier was educated at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina from which he graduated in 1983. A pilot for a major U.S. airline, he also serves, writes, and pontificates as a political-military officer in the military reserves. He is the founder of Excellence in Indolence, a movement to combat the tyranny of those who not only enjoy sitting at a desk and working in an office all day, but those who wish the rest of humanity to do so as well. He divides his time between central Pennsylvania and Europe.