Dream no small dreams

“Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Regular readers of this column recognize that I am not one to offer such lofty ideas and proposals, but when I saw this the other day I knew it fit general aviation perfectly. I read this quote just a short time after Rutan and company completed their historic flights into space and everything just fell right into place for me.

Aviation has always been an industry of optimists. The Wright brothers and their contemporaries started the thinking and it has only grown from there. Each time aviation hit a rough spot – like after a bad accident or during poor economic times – something happened to allow the optimistic folks to step to the fore and get us back on track.

Did the Wright brothers think of going into space? Probably not, but you can only wonder what they might have dreamt of doing if they were around these days. What sort of dreams would they have come up with if they saw the performance of SpaceShipOne? How about ideas they might have dreamt up when they heard about the scramjet going 7,000 mph plus?

Of course, the Wright brothers weren’t the only ones who had big dreams and were able to visualize things far beyond what most of us are able to perceive.

Bill Piper knew he could sell a lot of airplanes if he kept them simple and the price low. Clyde Cessna and his crew could see hosts of pilots flying their airplanes.

One of the most optimistic individuals I ever had the privilege of knowing was the late Moulton Taylor of Longview, Wash. Molt, as he was known to virtually everyone, created a flying car. It had detachable wings that could be towed on a trailer out to the airport. He thought big and got Ford Motor Co. involved. Molt said there was an agreement between him and the car company to build the airplanes on a production line like cars — in other words, an airplane in every garage.

That the idea never materialized (and there is another whole column about that scenario) isn’t as important as the fact that Molt saw the vision of millions of people having an airplane and flying from Point A to Point B easily, comfortably and economically.

After years of airplane development and growth and complexity, another group of dreamers came along and started thinking smaller, lighter and simpler.

Paul Poberezny and the Experimental Aircraft Association were some of those who looked into the past and saw how many individuals could gain freedom in the air. His followers included the giants of hang-gliding and ultralight industries. Little by little those dreamers came up with ideas that did get thousands of people into the air.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s there were all kinds of new light aircraft being produced in factories all over the country. Dreamers saw ultralight airplanes as the savior of general aviation and, indeed, they did help the industry turn around from the depression the business went into during the late 1970s. Many of those ultralight aircraft made the transition to light airplanes and today are on the market.

The experimental aircraft industry, probably the greatest pool of talent and vision ever to develop, has been the backbone of aviation’s successes over the last 15 years. Rutan started a number of them with his simple act of designing airplanes that were safer because they wouldn’t stall. He used new materials to create different designs that flew faster or slower or climbed more efficiently or landed slower.

Lots of people looked at his ideas and came up with their own. Today, those ideas have evolved into a host of airplanes that are currently on the market, including Cirrus, Lancair, Glasair, Diamond and I don’t know how many others.

Jim Bede has to be one of the biggest of the imagineers in the sheer number of his designs. He built the smallest ones – the BD5 and BD5 Jet – and resulted in more kits being sold than anyone ever imagined. Unfortunately, the engine for the prop job never was developed adequately and lots of people lost out.

In 1983 the ARV design contest sponsored by this newspaper was concluded at Oshkosh. PR specialist Dave Gustafson came up with the idea for the contest and brought it to us. The contest was to design either an ultralight aircraft or a light plane, show off the plans and ultimately build the machine and compete in a fly-off.

More than 120 individuals entered the competition with designs and more than 60 submitted drawings and plans for their airplane. At the fly-off, we had nearly 20 ultralights and light airplanes competing.

Were those folks thinking of the future of general aviation? You bet they were.

Thank heavens general aviation continues to be the breeding ground for dreamers … many of whom “dream no small dreams.”

Boy, would I love to be around 50 years from now and see what’s going on in general aviation. Happy New Year!

Dave Sclair was co-publisher from 1970-2000.

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