The Aviator - University of Virginia.

Sky Kings

In my sturdy aeroplane
I may never land again
I will soar on angel wings
One of those great -- Sky Kings!
-- old barnstorming calypso

What makes a person want to risk life and limb in a flimsy flying machine? One might as well ask what makes humankind want to fly at all, for mocking gravity on manufactured wings is a dream as old as history. Heroes yearn to join the birds and gods Up There -- while the rest of us contentedly watch from a safe distance, on a solid surface.

The fascination that we have with daredevil pilots only increases when, occasionally, they come tumbling out of the sky, splat, back onto the earth that they taunted. Sky Kings they were, and Sky Kings they will always remain, as long as someone takes the time to put up a sign or a stone recalling their exploits -- preferably at the exact spot where they spiraled off the mortal coil.

Flying Paperboy Monument.

To visit such a shrine is to absorb the life lessons of some of America's most important people. Wind Shear is like your unpredictably petty boss. An Empty Gas Tank is a maxed-out credit card. A Fog Bank is the recalcitrant loan officer that stands between you and your internet porn empire. Who is that coming out of the sun, both guns blazing? A business competitor? An aggrieved ex-lover? As you spiral down in flames, you'll at least know that your unheralded calamity was shared in spirit by a bona-fide hero, and he received a monument for it.

In short: falling out of the sky is newsworthy. It can even make a select few famous, or more famous than they were already. Sky King landmarks allow us to walk onto the crosshairs where human pride, ambition, or sense of duty turned into a pile of twisted wreckage, and to touch the finger of God with our feet.

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September 2, 2014

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