Airshows, spectators, and the inimitable Fred Rogers

If you’re reading this post, you can be fairly sure that you’re an aviation enthusiast. You might be a pilot, but you might not be, too.

Believe it or not, there are massive numbers of people scattered across the globe who are aviation enthusiasts, yet who don’t personally feel the need to grasp the controls and guide a machine through the air. There’s no contradiction there. Not all NASCAR fans rush the pits to force their way into a car so they can experience the big banked turns of Daytona first hand.

Most people who appreciate fashion don’t sew their own clothes. And the vast majority of people who have a real affection for large piles of cash find a way to restrain themselves from printing up a batch in the basement.

There’s no rule, no regulation, not even a sternly worded guideline that says you have to be a pilot, or a mechanic, or anything else to call yourself an aviation enthusiast. If you like aviation in any form, then you’re in the club. That’s it. You just have to enjoy something about the act of flying, or the design and construction of the aircraft, or the fields they fly from, or the people they attract. If you feel an affinity for any aspect of the industry, you’re an aviation enthusiast. And it is to this group, this vast under-appreciated, often forgotten group that I say the following: Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, I can’t help but reminisce a bit about last summer. Not the whole thing, mind you. I’m thinking mostly about a week in July when I found myself camping out in a Wisconsin field amongst thousands of my fellow aviation enthusiasts. The event that drew us together is called AirVenture. If I’m not mistaken, it’s taking place again this summer, too. And I have no doubt that many thousands of campers will be back in place to the west of Poberezny Road enjoying the camaraderie that events like this one develop amongst the participants and spectators alike.

What surprised me last year in the campground was the number of people I met who were not pilots. They weren’t aviation mechanics, they didn’t work in ATC, either. Many of them had never been in the front seat of an airplane for any reason. Yet they were at AirVenture to see the sights, get up close and personal with the industry they find so alluring, and maybe, just maybe, make a new friend in the process.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to suppose that pilots, homebuilders, and their spouses flock to airshows each year like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. That makes sense. But for those of us who fit into those slender categories it’s worth keeping in mind that we are surrounded at these events by non-pilots and non-homebuilders who love these machines and the freedom they suggest every bit as much as we do. It’s important that we keep that in mind as we go about our business, and our recreational pursuits. Because the ugly American isn’t just overseas on a two-week vacation. Sometimes he (or she) is right here at home, irritating the natives and burning bridges that we’d be better off reinforcing.

These spectators aren’t the enemy, they’re aviation’s great secret weapon. These people have standing in their communities, they’ve got skin in the game and, more than anything, they want to be accepted, even welcomed into this community they feel so attracted to.

So as this summer airshow season gets underway, I challenge you to seek out people you don’t know. Do what you can to make them feel appreciated when they show up at the airport. Answer their questions when you can, and admit that you’re not sure what the answer might be when you can’t. Be a mensch, if for no other reason than your own self-interest. Because you never know when that total stranger you spent an enjoyable hour or two with at the airshow will turn out to be someone you really need on your side during some other phase of life.

We all leave the airport sometime, and when we do, we find ourselves once again surrounded by a population that is predominantly made up of non-pilots, non-mechanics, and non-aviation professionals. Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if they looked kindly upon us with fresh memories of the big smiles and warm handshakes we shared with them when they were on our turf?

Yeah. Mr. Rogers had it right all along: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

 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. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.

 

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