Let’s Talk: What we have here is a failure to communicate

Aviation must learn to speak with one voice, writes Steve Bill Hanshew elsewhere in this issue of General Aviation News.

It is a theme which we have tried to nurture in the past, with little to show for it. We still think it a good — indeed a vital — idea.

Hanshew cites the National Rifle Association as an organization representing very disparate constituencies, but speaking for all of them with one very strong voice. It doesn’t matter to the NRA whether you shoot pistols for fun on a target range, big game, waterfowl, or simply collect guns because you like them: the NRA speaks to politicians and the press – typically anti-gun – and speaks strongly.

The NRA has an enormous membership, famous for reminding politicians where their campaign contributions come from. It is my contention that an aviation lobby, while representing fewer people, would represent more money than even the NRA, and we all know that money talks to politicians.

From conversations with business owners, ranging from officers of huge corporations to individual Flying Farmers, I have the impression that – taken all together – they contribute an almost unimaginable sum of money to political campaigns. Many are members of aviation organizations, sometimes more than one, but each of those organizations speaks only of its own narrow interest.

If, as Hanshew suggests, we had a supra-group, an aviation association that included the airlines, the National Business Aviation Association, AOPA, EAA, all the type and special purpose groups and, yes, the Flying Farmers, we would have a strong and convincing voice for aviation as an entity, not just for particular segments of it.

We have said before, and will continue to say, that such an organization could tell the people on Capitol Hill that, if they want campaign contributions from those of us who fly, they can jolly well drive out to distant Dulles (IAD) to pick up the checks, until general aviation of all kinds no longer is banned from Reagan National Airport (DCA). That would get their attention, and would be a realistic starting point.

Inadequate communication goes well beyond politics and beyond what an aviation supra-lobby could do for us, however. It goes to the heart of general aviation, NASA, aeronautical engineering and, indeed, just about every other aspect of aviation.

In the beginning, Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, Samuel P. Langley and the Wright brothers all had to discover the physics of camber for themselves or, in the Wrights’ case, recalculate the work of others to arrive at the truth. Obviously, none of them were sailors, or talked with sailors, or knew the first darned thing about sails. Sailors and sailmakers had understood the relationship between camber and airfoils from the writing of N. Bonger’s “Traite du Naviere” in 1745. Iceboat sailors knew more about apparent wind in the mid-1800s than airplane designers did in the 1920s (iceboats always sail faster than the wind). Sadly, sailors and aeronautical engineers followed separate paths with the exception of one great naval architect, Starling Burgess, who designed famous racing yachts and built pioneering airplanes.

Think how much more rapidly aviation might have developed if its pioneers had talked with engineers and scientists in other disciplines.

Recently, as NASA prepared its Mars rovers for flight to the red planet, they fretted over a circuit that might – just might – be faulty. Unfortunately, testing the circuit required partial disassembly of the rover, including removal of delicate explosive fasteners. Automobiles, and many airplanes, have a single plug from which almost all systems and many individual components can be analyzed at the drop of a hat. NASA’s engineers and those at Ford or General Motors apparently don’t share their knowledge.

NASA could have saved a lot of time, money and worry had its design teams talked with those in businesses where efficiency and a balance sheet count for something.

If we can create a supra-lobby for aviation, and if we can keep it in one piece, we will be able to communicate our story, our needs, our ideas with one voice.

To do that, however, associations currently speaking only for airlines, business aircraft owners, the aerospace industry, private pilots, individual type clubs – the whole, wide gamut involved in aviation – must understand that, when all is said and done, our interests all are the same.

Just as the backyard pistol plinker, the big game hunter and the gun collector ultimately have a single interest, so have all of us in aviation.

Let’s talk.

Thomas F. Norton is one of four people who regularly contribute to this column.

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