It’s all about potential

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at

Aviation enthusiasts, perhaps more than any other group, have a unique insight into the potential of the private sector and personal ingenuity. A good case can be made to include the medical community having that same insight. But the general public can verify the significant advances in aviation by doing nothing more complex than looking up to follow the sound of an aircraft passing overhead. It’s considerably more difficult to personally witness advancements in cancer detection or thoracic surgery. Aviation is somewhat less icky, too.

For a quick and easy lesson on the power of potential, consider the recent history of aviation. Two brothers from Ohio launched themselves into first place, ahead of some of the leading scientists of the day, by making the first flights with a heavier-than-air vehicle. Those first flights were short, and exceedingly dangerous. But the airplane was born and for the first time in human history a vehicle was able to takeoff, cruise, and land – all while under the positive control of the pilot.

This is an excellent example of why potential is so important. Although it was exciting that Wilbur and Orville flew, there were no more than a handful of people in the entire world who saw any point in the achievement. After all, if the machine takes half a dozen people to move and launch it, and it only travels a hundred yards or so at a time, what’s the value of such a feeble, gangly looking machine?

Today, there are passengers lined up at departure gates all over the world who can easily and confidently answer that question. The cargo stowed in the holds of the airplanes they fly in attest to the benefit of fast, safe air travel, too.

Jump forward 100 years, which is a hop-skip-and-a-jump in evolutionary terms, and we can see Burt Rutan hunkered down in the Mojave Desert preparing to launch passengers into space on a venture that seems like folly to some, and extravagantly wasteful to others. And when viewed in the short term, that might be the case. But where will this new technological leap take us? To be honest, we don’t know. We can’t know with any certainty. Because it is not Burt and his partnership with Richard Branson that will elevate the privatization of space travel into realizing the full potential of the technology – it is those who will come after them. Boys and girls who are at this very moment sitting in elementary school classrooms around the world will be the men and women who discover, refine, and develop the various uses of this tremendous technological leap forward.

I ask you to consider this far-fetched, and completely true piece of near science-fiction. Human beings developed the ability to fly only 107 years ago. Those first flights were so short that it was years before those newfangled flying machines could remain aloft for long enough to require the pilot to reverse course in order to return to the field they took off from, to land again. Yet only 66 years after those first flights, less than the length of a single human lifespan, men were leaving Earth’s orbit and landing on the moon, safely.

Human beings are the only species we know of that are absolutely aware of their own mortality. We are also the only species that is aware that extinction is the natural order of things on earth. To survive as a species we will have to one day leave the planet, en masse. That is the inescapable reality of our collective future.

It is education, investment, ingenuity, and a willingness to accept a certain level of risk that will allow us to achieve that goal one day, many years from now. If we have the vision to see the writing on the wall, and to work together for the common good, humanity will survive. If we do not, we will ultimately go extinct as will every other species on the planet.

Aviation enthusiasts know this to be true, while most people don’t spend the first minute thinking about what technology has done, or will do, for the human race.

It’s not what is that makes life so dramatically uplifting and exciting, it’s what might be that lights a fire in us. Personally, I am quite comfortable with the realization that I won’t live to see my dreams come true. Yet, I am happy to help shoulder the burden and get the ball rolling, because there was a day when the airplane was a pointless, rich-man’s plaything — and then everything changed.

Everything will change again, you can count on that. That’s how technology, and public opinion works. It is the nut-cases, the loons, and the incorrigible dreamers who pull the rest of us into reality – eventually. That’s the power of potential. It’s invisible, right up until the moment when it becomes obvious, and ultimately transitions into being an undeniable truth.


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