We All Start with the Same Piece of Paper

(This post originally appeared on medium.com)
As an experimental test pilot, I get to wear a mask and fly, but that isn’t my superpower.

Transforming an ordinary piece of paper into something that looks sharp and cuts through the air, held aloft by unseen forces — in the eyes of my seven year old son, this is an unparalleled act of awesomeness.

But giving him a blank sheet of paper and showing him how to fold it, hold it, and launch it into the sky transforms him into a superhero.

A blank sheet of paper is an invitation.

It is a common starting point for many personal journeys — for artists who sketch, authors who write, and for those brave enough, a way to let their dreams take flight.

As a child, I used to believed in the invisible, in superpowers, but somewhere along the way I stopped believing.

It’s like Jake, my two year old son, who used to put on a pair of swim goggles, his “super-Gake goggles” and fly around the house with no doubt in his mind that he was a superhero.

A few months later, I asked him if he was “super-Gake.”

He replied, almost defiantly, somewhat dejectedly, “No, I can’t fly. I don’t have any wings.”

It’s almost inevitable, that at some point, we all lose faith. We stop flying.

As a child, I dreamed of being a test pilot and eventually an astronaut.

Eighteen years later, I had achieved part of that goal. Now I can fly again. I’ve rekindled my belief in unseen things.

Today, still farther along the way, I’ve learned some valuable life lessons.

I’ve learned that achievement is one part rocket science and one part 1st grade art class.

I’ve learned some aeronautical engineering and Bayesian statistics and airmanship and aviation.

Some of those things are natural forces like lift and drag. Some aren’t: e.g., politics, economy, and technology.

And still more, some are supernatural, like vision, hope, endurance, and attitude.

Endurance, for example, has dual meanings. It is measure of an airplane’s ability to remain airborne for a set length of time, a function of fuel quantity and performance. It’s also a quality that helps us transform our dreams into something real.

I believe a paper airplane is simultaneously a symbol of hope (and other invisible forces) and also a concrete example of the wonders of aerospace (especially flight test) — this is why I feel compelled and privileged to share with you, the readers of Lift and Drag, these observations and inspiration.

No one ever tells you that you don’t have enough experience to build and fly a paper airplane.

In other words, we all get a chance to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and to launch our ideas into the world. Where will you land?