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Follow the Flight Plan

Learning to fly can teach you everything you need to help your business take off.

I am a chicken. Which is why I sorely needed a second application of deodorant after my editor asked me to try sitting behind the controls of a single-engine propeller airplane. She pretended she wanted me to look into a growing trend-entrepreneurs learning how to fly-but I think I must've done something to make her angry.

Business books have argued for years that if you can glide high above the clouds, you can soar over your competition (see "In-Flight Reading," right). And the nonprofit organization Be a Pilotis offering an introductory flight lesson for $49 as part of the vigorous campaign it has undertaken to interest entrepreneurs in flight training.

In-flight reading
Not ready for the cockpit? Learn the lessons without leaving the ground with these books:

But does a flying regimen really sharpen your entrepreneurial acumen? James D. Murphy thinks so. Not surprising-after all, he is the author of Business Is Combat (Regan Books), and his Atlanta-based company, Afterburner Seminars, has trained top management from such companies as Home Depot and FedEx on how to think like a fighter pilot. "In order to be successful [in business]," he told me, "you have to change, and change rapidly, and that's one thing that a fighter pilot is able to do extremely well. One minute you're flying along over a hot desert floor doing Mach One, which is 728 miles per hour when you're at sea level. Twenty seconds later, you're rolling inverted over a 12,000-foot mountain, then dodging a thunderstorm." Mommy!

But Gary Beckett at Be a Pilot promised that I wouldn't fly upside down and assured me that my co-pilot had his own set of controls. And in a vote of confidence toward me and my co-pilot (think young; think Doogie Howser), Beckett decided to accompany us in our Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

I have to admit, flying with your wits and without the beverage cart was exciting. I can even start to understand why entrepreneurs like Allen Warner, 48, CEO of Perma-Tech, are hooked. Warner, whose company provides spray-on linings for pickup truck beds, flies about 10 hours every week, either bringing clients to his company or jetting out to see them. He estimates he's seen a 25 percent increase in sales since he got his license in 2000. "I can't tell you how many times I've been over a traffic jam and thought, 'I'm glad I'm here and not there,' " he marvels.

I marveled, too, and my confidence has climbed. But I don't see myself going beyond being a passenger. I am a chicken. And we all know chickens don't fly.

Contact Sources

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Follow the Flight Plan.

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