Follow the Flight Plan

Learning to fly can teach you everything you need to help your business take off.
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This story appears in the January 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

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Edition: May 2017

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