The potential of potential

Believe it or not, even the most complex things can ultimately be broken down to a remarkably simple origin. Take your house, for example. While it may seem somewhat ordinary to you, a person who lived in an earlier time would be fascinated by the almost magical qualities of the amenities and gadgets you live with so casually.

It’s true. Imagine for a moment that you could invite a great thinker, tinkerer, and inventor like Benjamin Franklin into your home. You wouldn’t even have to clean the place up to impress him.

The television is no doubt on, receiving high definition images in vibrant color from anywhere on earth, or even off the earth, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yet we think nothing of it. The temperature of your house is almost impossibly hospitable, winter and summer. You have food stocked in the kitchen that will last for days, weeks, even months. It will be safe to eat, and more than likely taste good, too.

You have indoor plumbing in multiple rooms and hot water circulating throughout the house. When the sun sets, you have lights that allow you to continue your activities, as if it were daytime. And when bedtime rolls around, the mattress you lay down on displays a higher level of technology than the most advanced transportation device Ben Franklin ever rode through town in.

Remarkably, most of these whiz-bang developments of our modern technologically advanced society share a direct link to a discovery made by Michael Faraday early in the 18th Century. It was good ol’ Mr. Faraday who realized that spinning a loop of wire around a magnet, or a magnet within a loop of wire, would create a force that we currently refer to as electricity.

For all the scientific mumbo-jumbo, expanded variations on Ohm’s Law, and specialized tools that look like they’re hiding a tiny little nuclear powerplant inside, electricity is remarkably simple. It’s all about potential, really.

You probably don’t think of it as potential. You think of it as voltage, like most people who know a bit about electricity. But voltage is indeed electrical potential. Without it electrons won’t leave the stable environment of the atom they currently reside with. They stay put and no current flows. The television remains dark. The refrigerator quits working. The fan that circulates heated or cooled air throughout your home gives up the ghost, and the lights go out. All because of a lack of potential. Simply fail to pass that loop of wire past the magnet, and everything stops.

It’s really that simple when you get right down to it. Heck, even nuclear powerplants use magnets and wires to make electricity. The nuclear reaction is really just a fancy high-tech way to heat water so it will produce steam, which in turn drives a turbine that rotates a magnet tucked neatly inside a loop of wire. Viola! Potential is born.

I mention all this because the same argument can be made for aviation. When you get right down to it, aviation is incredibly simple. After all, the earliest airplanes were made out of nothing more exotic than wood and cloth with a few fasteners tossed in here and there. But of course they weren’t the first flying machines. That distinction goes to the hot air balloon, which was flown by those noble experimentalists, the Montgolfier brothers, way back in 1783.

You might recall from high school history class that Ben Franklin was in France in 1783 on business, representing this new upstart of a country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. And yes, Ben actually witnessed a balloon flight from his hotel window. That quantum leap in technology impressed Mr. Franklin to the point that he began to ruminate and opine on the future of balloons and flight.

There’s that potential thing popping up again. Everywhere you look there’s potential, potential, potential. It’s all around us, just waiting to be discovered and exploited to its best possible advantage. Assuming you’re looking for it, of course.

Ben certainly had the ability to spot potential. Of course, he wasn’t entirely correct about his vision for aviation. Airplanes and helicopters took on most of the roles Ben envisioned for hot air balloons. But he was on track for the most part. He saw the potential and he embraced it, even if he didn’t entirely grasp its implementation.

The moral of the story is simple. Aviation as you knew it, as I knew it, is a memory. The aviation our children and grandchildren will grow into will be different. Whether that difference is better or worse is up to those of us who can recognize general aviation’s potential and develop it into something truly worthwhile.

So remember, when you start feeling like you’re just one person with a limited ability to make a difference – all those appliances and systems in your house work because one electron felt the potential applied to it and moved to the next atom down the line. And then another followed, and then another, and another.

Lead the way. Discover the future of aviation as you see it. Then change the world with the knowledge that you do have the potential to make it happen.


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 maintains multiple blogs and interacts via the Internet at He can be reached at

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