My Aviation Playlist, Pt. 1


For as long as I can remember, aviation has always been my first love (obviously); however, music has definitely been a close second.  I wasn’t blessed with the ability to shred on guitar or with vocals like an opera singer, but I do have one talent.  I have stored in my brain the lyrics to just about every song that I’ve ever heard.  Amazing that I can barely remember what I did yesterday sometimes, but I can remember obscure lyrics to a song I heard back in 1983.  Whatever.  I’m a blast at karaoke nights, and I’m more than okay with that!

Just as is with everything else, musical artists have mused about flying since even before powered flight was a reality.  Some songs are slow and melodic while others really get your blood racing.  I remember when I was younger and MP3 players first became a thing.  They were so cool and futuristic at the time!  Previously I had only cassettes to make mix tapes with.  Many reading this may not even remember that far back, but let me tell you, it was difficult trying to record your favorite songs from the radio just to put together the perfect mix!  Nowadays, I can assemble a plethora of playlists having to do with any number of things and store hundreds (if not thousands) of songs on my cell phone.  I thought it might be interesting to revisit a playlist about flying & aviation by compiling ten songs together that have some meaning to me.

Here they are (in no particular order):

Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins

In 1986, I was 9 years old.  I remember my mother taking me to the movie theatre to see some movie about flying called Top Gun.  Little did I know then how monumental of a movie this would become, and how much it would shape my life.  Everyone I knew wanted to be Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.  Still do! But I digress.  Back then, it was also extremely popular to put out a soundtrack with each theatrical release, and Top Gun was no different.  The album was intense, all the way through, and would go on to be one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time! Leading off the soundtrack, and becoming a statement for the entire movie, was Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins. In the 80’s, Loggins became a popular go-to for writing movie songs, taking it to the next level with Danger Zone. With heavy synthesizer and guitar licks, it became the perfect song to describe how flying fighter jets made one feel. I still feel cool when I put the aviator shades on and crank the volume up to 11 with this monster hit! (Fun fact, the folks who developed the adult cartoon series Archer did a great remake of the video. It can be seen here.)

Learning to Fly by Pink Floyd

There are very few bands that I could sit and listen to just about their entire back catalogue, but Pink Floyd is definitely among those few.  Not sure why really, but their music has just resonated with me, regardless of the album.  Released on their 1987 offering, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Learning to Fly was the first single to be released off of the album.  Although the lyrics are clearly primarily about actually learning to fly, others have argued that it is also about facing fears in life and overcoming them.  Intertwined with the lyrics are actual radio recordings of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason during a flying lesson.  Guitarist David Gilmour is also a very accomplished pilot who owns his own .  He has confirmed that the lyrics are also a metaphor for beginning something new or experiencing a radical change in life. The video features a Native American, working in a field, who then runs and jumps off a cliff to turn into a red-tailed hawk.  We should all be lucky to fly so free.

Airplanes by B.o.B (featuring Hayley Williams)

In 2009, I had just accepted my first real position within aviation as the Airport Manager of the Leadville-Lake County Airport in Leadville, CO.  I am very much a city slicker, so it was quite the adjustment for me to move to a county with just over 7,000 people living in it.  It was a time of strife, confusion about what I wanted, and loneliness for me, so when Airplanes hit the airwaves that year, it struck a chord with me.  I really don’t know what B.o.B. intended for the song to be about for certain, but when I listen to it, I get the feeling of longing for an earlier time in one’s life when things were just simpler and easier.  That’s very much how I was feeling at that time in my life. I missed family and friends.  I also found the chorus line about comparing airplanes in the night sky to shooting stars fascinating since I’d never thought to look at them that way.  Makes me feel more magical when I fly at night now, wondering if someone is wishing on me!

Dreams by Van Halen

As a child of the 1980’s, I loved big hair rock and roll.  For whatever reason, I became a huge fan of the song Jump by Van Halen.  I was a little devastated when David Lee Roth left the group, leaving Sammy Hagar to take the reins.  Fortunately, he did well with the band, and gave us Dreams in 1986, along with several other hits afterward.  I’ll never forget Diamond Dave in that red & black skin tight suit doing karate kicks all over the place though!  Anyhow, the lyrics do seem to go along with aviation, talking about “spread your wings” and “get higher and higher; straight up we’ll climb”, but it’s the video that really did it for me as a kid.  The US Navy Blue Angels flying their Douglas A-4 Skyhawks were choreographed in with the music for the video.  I don’t recall ever seeing the Blue Angels as a kid, but I imagined every one of their performances being just like that, music and all. I’ve since had the opportunity to see the Blues in real life, and am certainly not disappointed!

Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver

When I was growing up, my grandfather on my dad’s side was an airline pilot for USAir.  I can only imagine the type of schedule that he would keep as he was based out of Pittsburgh, but commuted from Indianapolis. I’m sure that he spent countless hours on the road (in the air) missing his family, sometimes not knowing when he’ll get back to see them.  Now that I’m older and managing a fairly busy airport, I think about it again as I see countless corporate aircraft cycle through.  The pilots on these aircraft may go for days without seeing their families, no matter how much they want to.  I always wanted to be an airline pilot growing up, but now I feel blessed to have a job I love, to be able to fly whenever I want, and to come home to see my family every single night (most weeks anyhow).  The real tragedy of this song is that John Denver was also an avid pilot who died tragically while flying.  He left on his own plane, not knowing that he’d never come back.

Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters

I soloed at the end of 1994, received my private certificate in 1995, and would enroll at Indiana State University later that year.  In 1999, I was truly in the midst of my flight training.  I actually had to go back and check my logbook, but I was working on my commercial certificate at this time.  According to Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, the lyrics to this song are “about the search for some sort of inspiration, the search for signs of life that will make you feel alive.”  After having been in school for a number of years, I’m sure many of us can relate to that. I do even truly feel that the sky has saved me; however, that’s not the only great aviation related part to this song.  The video takes place on an airliner, parodying the movie Airplane!  Two mechanics smuggle their narcotics in the onboard coffee-maker. This ends up incapacitating everyone who drinks the coffee, including the flight crew.  The band, having avoided the coffee, find themselves forced to land the plane.  Each band member, taking on several other roles throughout the video, adds to the hilarity.  If you can parody a classic parody and make me laugh, you’re doing all right in my book.

Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra

I either love this song because I have an old soul or because I spent one too many days working at Olive Garden.  If I’m being honest, it’s probably a little bit of both.  I don’t regret those days though…gave me an appreciation for classic tunes, food, and vino!  Nevertheless, The Chairman of the Board knew more than just a little bit about flying.  Written when air travel was a new and exciting concept, as well as luxurious, the lyrics celebrate exotic destinations such as Bombay, Peru and Acapulco, as well as the pure joy and romance of being airborne.  I mean, “Once I get you up there, where the air is rarefied; We'll just glide, starry eyed”?  How smooth can you be?? Most singers today aren’t even that legit! Anyhow, I don’t travel via commercial airline as much as I used to, but when I do I miss the majesty of it all. Back then it was an honor to be able to fly Pan Am or TWA. Today it’s cattle on planes with a little misery mixed in.

Fly Away by Lenny Kravitz

With extremely simple lyrics, Fly Away is a hard rocking ballad that’s sure to soothe any aircraft operator out there.  The concept of flying away to get away is exactly what led me to buy an aircraft in the first place.  When I first moved to Tennessee, my father was living in Melbourne, Florida.  It was an eleven and a half hour drive each way…I know because I did it a couple times.  I moved back to this side of the country to be able to visit more often, so I hopped in the car and went.  It only took a couple of trips to realize that owning an airplane would give me the freedom to get up and go whenever I wanted, thus getting away by flying away. Eleven and a half hours quickly became five and a half in the Cessna 172 and now about three hours in the Seneca.  It doesn’t hurt that the guitar and bass line on the song are super sick.

Learning to Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

For some unknown reason, within the span of about 10 years, a play on the song title of Learning to Fly was an extremely popular premise.  Tom Petty took it to the next level though with an album titled Into the Great Wide Open.  It’s almost like he was pandering to the aviation community!  On a deeper level though, it’s thought that this song was about the importance of constantly trying new things and learning from one’s mistakes.  Who cares about all that though?!  Most of the video was shot in an aircraft boneyard nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, arguably one of the most interesting airplane graveyards in the world!  Even further, the video’s young hero gets propositioned by an older woman, takes a lot of drugs, and falls in love while surviving a fiery car crash.  In the world of Tom Petty videos, it doesn’t get much better than that!

There are many song titles out there that deal with aviation and flying. This is just a handful that have a special meaning to me in some way. I’m sure many of you reading this have songs that hold meaning of their own. Please tell us about one of them and what it means to you! Oh yeah, bonus points to anyone that can name the band and song title of the banner image at the top. #showmewhatyougot