The Surprising Way a Poem Changed an Airman’s Life

May 5, 2016 | Author: Bob Witwer

It’s the smallest moments in life that seem to shape us the most. At the time, you don’t realize the impact, but then years later, when you reflect upon them, everything becomes clear.

One of these moments happened when I entered the Air Force Academy 40 years ago.

Many of the events we had to endure in Basic Cadet Training have slipped from my memory, but there was one in particular that forever changed the way I look at airplanes and aerospace.

They made us memorize a poem. And not just any poem, a poem written by 19-year-old John Gillespie Magee Jr. who died in combat months after it was written.

The poem is called “High Flight” and it perfectly puts into words what a pilot feels while flying. It is so beautiful the words are engraved on the headstones of many aviators and astronauts at Arlington National Cemetery.

High Flight

Two years ago, I decided to share “High Flight” at the 2014 Aerospace Technical Achievement Awards. I’ve been the emcee for 6 years, and while the script is typically prepared for me, I always like to add my own personal touch to the opening and closing.

The poem went over well. A year later I was motivated to write my own, but I wanted it to have a different message. I wanted my words to convey to everyone why we aerospace engineers do what we do.

Aero engineers get it. We’ve all been there. We know what a big deal it is to watch a first-of-model airplane that we’ve worked on fly for the very first time, but for the rest of the population, it’s just another “first flight”. They don’t understand how much blood, sweat and tears go into getting these planes developed and off the ground. I wanted to try and give them a sense of how we feel about what we do.

It took me about 90 minutes back in February 2015 to write “Aero’s Child.” Poetry writing is a bit of a hobby for me and I occasionally write poems and music when inspiration hits. I reflected on the recent certification of the Airbus A350 in late 2014. I remembered that April 2015 was the 20th anniversary of the Boeing 777 certification; the most memorable airplane program I ever worked. I thought about my experiences. I thought about all of my Aero colleagues. And then inspiration hit.

Aero’s Child

I recited “Aero’s Child” at the 2015 Aerospace Technical Achievement Awards a few weeks later. However, I chickened out and didn’t tell anyone I wrote it. It wasn’t until I casually mentioned it to a colleague that the cat was out of the bag and word started to get around. People that read it told me how it resonated with them. I felt honored, and I hoped that my words could touch them, even in a small way, the way John Magee’s words touched me.

I will never get to meet John Magee Jr. But if I could, I’d tell him that his eloquent choice of words resonated with me and changed me so much that I will never forget them; not a single word.

Bob Witwer

Bob Witwer

Bob Witwer is vice president of Advanced Technology for Honeywell Aerospace, where he defines the technology strategy and leads the development of advanced technology for all Honeywell Aerospace products. His more than 30 years at the organization include work on the A320 Flight Management System, Boeing 777 Airplane Information Management System (AIMS) and Honeywell Primus Epic avionics system. Bob is also the Chairman of the Board for Arizona Technology Council and serves as an officer on the Board of Directors for the Challenger Space Center in Arizona in Peoria, AZ. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. He is the author of several technical publications. He is Green Belt and Design for Six Sigma certified.

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