For the good of the order

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.

Patrick Henry, a man who knew a thing or two about standing up when the chips were down, famously spoke the words, “United we stand, divided we fall.” He made that critical point in his last public speech, in 1799. Keep that in mind for a moment. I’ll come back to it shortly.

That quote came to mind earlier this week when I received an e-mail from a General Aviation News reader who took me to task for using the term “steam gauges” in reference to round, analog gauges that are still mounted in the panels of many thousands of aircraft. He took the term as a slight, which was certainly not my intent. In fact, I am an official, old guy. I like round faces with clearly visible indicators mounted in their center. Steam gauges forever, I say!At 52 years of age, I’ve still got a few years left in me, I hope. And as a techno-geek, I have a real appreciation for what glass cockpits bring to the pilot who is truly proficient with them. But that’s not the point. A chasm has opened up in GA that pits the digital information gatherers against the analog information gatherers. And that’s a problem, because it isn’t a battle that’s happening in isolation.

In my work as a CFI, I routinely come in contact with other CFIs who have an attitude about Sport Pilots that’s less than warm and fuzzy. More than a few times I’ve encountered a CFI who is openly, and proudly, belligerent about the certificate and those who hold it.

This is bad. No, that’s too weak a sentiment. Let me take another whack at the issue in an attempt to make this point more clearly for anyone who might miss the subtext. The battle hardened “us against them” mindset of is really, REALLY bad, counterproductive, cannibalistic, and ultimately self-defeating. The GA community has enough hurdles to clear in order to survive, let alone thrive. We need to foster an attitude of mutual respect and support, not a culture of nit-picking, back-biting, and open derision.

At least in this respect, we are our own worst enemy. And we have to stop it. There are too many natural divisions for us to start picking at subsets of our brethren for being in the wrong camp. If this were to continue, we run the very real risk of gutting our community and killing any chance of expanding the net to capture more aviation minded newcomers. Seriously, why would anyone pursue aviation as a hobby or a vocation if they found early in their airport experience that they might open themselves up to verbal abuse and finger-pointing just because they chose to train for the wrong certificate, in the wrong aircraft, potentially at the wrong flight school, located on the wrong airport?

In a misguided attempt to establish the dominance of our own personal preferences, at least some of us are poking holes in the pool that gives us life. We need to learn to welcome all comers, regardless of which certificate they want to train for – they’ve chosen to get into aviation! Celebrate that! Don’t welcome them into the fold with an insulting snide remark. Instead, welcome them with open arms and let them know that they can find support and friendship on the field as well as in the air. Rather than denigrate their choices, show them how happy you are to have a new member of the community, then feel free to share your enthusiasm for your own choices. For all you know they weren’t even aware that the option you chose was available to them.

There are a lot of disparate factions in the aviation community. If we band together as a united front with a positive message and a supportive attitude, we win. But if we insist on splintering off the ultralighters from the rest of us, the taildragger pilots from the tricycle gear crowd, the VFR crew from their IFR cousins, the single-engine fliers from the multi-engine drivers, the landplane fans from the seaplane devotees – we’re going to find ourselves in a very lonely place, with increasing pressure to kill our industry and no support left on the inside to fight it.

Which brings me back to Patrick Henry, the man who famously said, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” when those two options were absolutely literal choices. This founding American put together a series of words that we should all hold close to our hearts, keep them near to our minds, and commit the concept to our daily actions on and off the airport. Henry said, “United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I can live it, and in the long run, I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

You can reach Jamie at


  1. Vernon Barr says

    Keep up the good work. I truly enjoy your take on things aviation. There is plenty of solid reasons for the Sport Pilot and LSA paradigm. There are also good reasons for not needing the third class medical to exercise a private pilot endorsement. However, we will never get around these issues without positive activism in the flying community.
    I actually an ad for an Ercoupe the other day that said not an LSA, a real airplane. I laughed so hard at the elite attitude expressed when the ad went on to explain the owner was a ‘real pilot’.

    Vernon Barr

  2. says

    I never could understand why they put a big ole wheel on the nose of an airplane or tried to turn it into a car by putting a steering wheel in it and yet I love those new gadgets in the instrument panel, while keeping a few of the critical ones in the “steam gauge” form for back up and quick recognition when the going get’s tough.

    Man, that was quite a transition from steam gauge to certificate.

  3. Russ says

    Hi Jamie,
    Right on! The issues the way I see it is one of pilot diversification. 6 pilots makes at least 11 opinions on any subject. Not only can we pilots agree on whether the wings should be on the top, middle, bottom, front or rear, we can even agree on how many there should be…


  4. says

    Jamie: I have a lot of confidence in my G1000, only because along side
    I have a Needle-Ball(T & B), and Airspeed, steam gages to bail me out when the power goes off. I even have whistle-stop tuning on one of my
    VHF radios. At home on the shelf.Keep up the good work. We should all standup and be counted.

  5. Bart says

    Isn’t it interesting, as a side note to the “steam gauges” conflict, that the FAA, in it’s infinite wisdom, has required backup instruments for most “glass cockpit displays” in the form of “steam gauges”. Yet, we’re training a new generation of pilots who’ve never used analog instruments, and who, as a result, have never learned to visualize their position in space using them? What good is a backup instrument the pilot can’t interpret? As another, old aviator, I like the analog gauges and find the digital readouts and pictures require much more time with my head in the cockpit and the autopilot flying the airplane. Is this a good thing? Does it contribute to safety?

  6. The Doc says

    Good article! The term “Steam Gages” has been around quite a while. I can’t imagine anyone would take exception to it, save someone who wasn’t quite literate in aviation terminology. If this individual takes exception to the use of the term “Steam Gages”, that person should stay as far away from professional pilots as possible, as they would be severely offended on a regular basis. In short they would be ridiculed for taking such exception…I can almost guarantee it! I have been involved in aviation as a pilot and flight instructor more then 50 years. During that time I never considered that there would ever be a division between the two, as they are both aviators, some just don’t want to be teachers. When the term “Steam Gages” came along, I accepted it as “another descriptor” in our field of endeavor. I never believed that I would come across a situation like this, that would evoke such derision so easily by a fellow aviator, as aviators have always been “accepting” of terminology used to describe a specific difference. Perhaps the venue has evolved into something I no longer recognize, as anyone who entered it has always been welcomed as “one of the group”, without qualification. Then again, I have never before met anyone with such a narrow vernacular, that they objected to the use of a specific terminology within aviation. I have an opinion about such individuals, but it is not usually associated with those engaged in aviation. Are you quite certain the “objector” was even an aviator or perhaps just a “spoiler” just looking to pick a fight? The latter seems more likely and they are out there and they are not “one of us”!

    PS: I think you do good work…keep it up!

  7. says

    Hi Jamie!

    Again, you are right on. Gravity sucks, and I don’t care how we defy it, as the whole thing is a gift that wasn’t available to the masses as recently as 100 years ago and still isn’t to most of the planet except right here in the USA. But don’t get me started America love it or leave it…

    While we’re talking about shooting our selves in the foot, let’s not be the pilot who shows his extreme pilot skills and either scares his passengers or makes them ill. That passenger won’t come back and will have negative stories to tell everyone who will listen. Happy Holidays to everyone, and good luck to us all.mb

  8. says

    Jamie, I wonder if this is an affliction that is unique to Florida, which, to be honest, is a “bubble” in GA with an unusually large number of airports, airparks, and lots of people with a great deal of free time on their hands. Nothing against Florida, mind you, it is one of the most fertile grounds on the planet for aviation. I think the key to the continued growth of our EAA chapter 1114 here in the suburbs of Raleigh is that we have not allowed cliques to develop. All we require is some interest in aviation. Some of our most loyal volunteers do not possess a pilots license, and no one cares really. Flying is flying, whether done solely in the hangar, from a powered parachute or in the cockpit of a screaming WWII warbird. In fact, one of our members owns one of the best P-51s on the planet, and is just as down to earth as the guy who flies an ultralight. Steam gauges, yarn on the canopy, or a full-blown glass panel – if that’s what you need, go for it. On the steam gauge issue, have you noticed that the early glass panels used digital readouts and vernier scales? Look at them now – they look like a bunch of steam gauges!

  9. Al Uhalt says

    HEAR! HEAR! Well said, Jamie!

    And, with respect to “steam gauges” (somewhat out of the context in which you used the term), I predict they will never leave us and, in fact, may see a resurgence in the cockpit — albeit perhaps in an electronic display rather than mechanical hardware. They are so much easier and faster to see and interpret at a glance than their digital descendents which must actually be specifically looked at and “read” to gain the information they are displaying. Many new instruments have both (e.g., the HSI) — the best of both worlds . . .

  10. says

    Hi Jamie….Once again you pierce right to the heart of a key issue: survival of general aviation. In the world of aviators and aviation our numbers are falling. Fewer student pilots stay in training to receive their pilot licenses, so much so that it is receiving the attention of the alphabet groups. We should be united and supportive as a group–a group of aviators. We cannot afford to split into factions: light sport pilots vs. private pilots, steam gauges vs. EFIS, and CFIs vs. everybody else. As Walt Kelly’s character Pogo used to quip, “We has seen the enemy and they is us.” We cannot afford discrimination in our rank and file. If we want to prevent proposals like user fees and LASP from becoming realities, we must accept all of our fellow aviators and close ranks. Thanks for the great article! Cheers from the Alamo…Dave

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