The big dogs came to town

As the political season heats up with candidates on the stump and spokesmen backing them or tearing them down on television, there is one message that is clear to many of us. We will never personally meet or have a substantive conversation with the individuals at the top of the ticket — not unless we have a checking account balance that has a lot of zeros behind it.

That’s not an indictment of the system, the major parties, or the nominees for this go-round. It’s just a statement of fact. The odds are good that most of us will never meet a president, or a governor, or a senator. If we do, the likelihood is slim that they will slap us on the back, invite us to have a seat, and ask us to share with them our thoughts on any particular issue. That’s just not the way it works, at least not for most of us.

If you’re reading this column it’s fair to say that you are not “most of us.” You are an aviation enthusiast, and that separates you from the crowd. You’re a doer far more than you’re a viewer. Aviation enthusiasts tend to accept challenges, set goals, establish a plan for achieving those goals, and get to it.

What kind of an idiot would ever solo an airplane (or an aircraft of any kind) if they didn’t believe deep down in their heart that they had an excellent chance at being successful in the long run? Who would ever start to build an airplane in their garage, or basement, or hangar if they didn’t have a sense of confidence that they could overcome the myriad difficulties that lay ahead of them and end up with a safe, flying aircraft?

You’re different. Accept it. Embrace it. Be happy. It’s a compliment. A well-earned compliment, too.

This past weekend was a great example of how aviation enthusiasts differ from the norm. The big dog came to town and spent time with the common folk. That’s not something that happens every day. Yet it does happen, and of that we can be pleased.

The big dog I refer to is Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which just happens to be the largest aviation membership organization in the world. Craig spent time at a SUN ’n FUN fire ring social in Lakeland, Floridam on Saturday evening, then hung around for a pancake breakfast on Sunday. That’s newsworthy because the events he came to be a part of were open to the public. And unlike his strictly political brethren, Craig wasn’t sequestered in an air-conditioned trailer while the huddled masses sweated it out under the Florida sun outside the radius of influence. Nope, Craig was right there on the ground with the troops, shoulder to shoulder, chatting, enjoying a cool beverage, and basically being a regular guy.

When was the last time you felt welcome to walk up to a total stranger who happens to be the CEO of a major organization to share your thoughts? Yeah, that’s kind of rare outside of aviation.

Even better than having unfettered access to Craig was the fact that a collection of other big dogs were standing right there in close proximity. Steve McCaughey of the Seaplane Pilots Association was there, and so was Lites Leenhouts of SUN ’n FUN, along with chairman Bob Knight and John Burton from the Florida Air Museum. Wayne Boggs, airshow boss extraordinare, was on hand, too.

In short, anyone you wanted to ask a question of, make a statement to, or just shake hands with to get the measure of the man were standing right there out in the open waiting to meet and greet you. That’s a big part of what makes this industry so spectacular to be involved with. No matter who you might be, and no matter how big a title the other guy (or gal) might hold, we’re available to each other.

That matters in the long run, because aviation is a participatory endeavor. Whether the challenge is expanding educational opportunities in general, or enhancing the value of passing through the turnstiles at SUN ’n FUN, the person you need to talk to is right there willing to listen. Whether you are concerned about keeping lakes or rivers in your neck of the woods open to seaplane activities, or protecting general aviation from the onslaught of rules, regulations, taxes, and fees that are too often threatening us, the folks you need to see are ready and willing to see you.

I take encouragement from that. I hope you do, too. Because as we get into this political season and hear all sorts of charges leveled from one side at the other, I hope you’ll keep in mind that as an aviator you aren’t limited to getting your news second hand. You can walk right up and ask the man (or woman) about the issue that’s bugging you, personally.

One of these days the big dog is going to come to your neighborhood, too. So be ready. You just might be the person with the answer they’ve been waiting to hear about.



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 You can reach him at


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