Went to another retirement party. Due to economic crunches the company offered a big early retirement package this year and a lot of people took it. I think I was hired to replace a couple, as a matter of fact. Anyway, the reception today was for a flight test pilot who's been here for 36 years and has over 3,000 hours (not kidding) logged on jets alone. Test pilots are interesting, before I came here I just figured they were crazy speed freaks who didn't value their lives much and only thought about one thing, flying... kind of like NASCAR drivers, I guess. But really, they're a lot more. It probably sounds stupid that I didn't know this before, but I didn't. They have brains. They know everything. They memorize FAA compliance regulations, know every system, every cable assembly, the science, electronics, chemistry and physics of how every part of an airplane works. They have thousands of hours logged in the air and spend years getting to where they are. Test pilots are very big people. I dunno, in my mind I always saw them as more... disposable? That's an awful word. Learjet lost some test pilots a couple years back and it was a big deal, very scary, people still talk about it and discuss the ins and outs of the investigation.
There was a party last week for an engineer in our department who's been here almost 40 years. Today was his last day. Around 4:00 he came by our cube and told the guys it'd been a pleasure working with them. Shook everyone's hand. Shook my hand and told me good luck, he hadn't had time to get to know me but he was sure I'd do just fine. Retirement parties sometimes feel almost like funerals. People tell funny stories about the person, some tears can be shed, there's cake, there are good-byes, you see people you haven't seen in a while, all that. Then life, as that engineer has almost always known it, changes. He'll get to go do whatever he wants now. Spend time with his wife, travel. But I can't imagine how odd it must be to work for the same company for so long and then, one day, just stop going. There are so many people who were working here when I was born. They're so happy to give all the years of their life to the aviation industry. It makes me think. I guess I'm happy too, I could stay here, I could be that old person smiling in a photo behind a cake listening to co-workers talk about how much I know and how much I've given. It's forever away for me though.
I wonder if, now, they look at where I am in life and it feels like forever away to them.
You know? I'm really surrounded by happy people here. Simple people who live in the middle of Kansas and don't really want a lot more out of life, they have what they want. Everything came as part of the plan. We should all be so lucky to live in this state.