It started with Louis Bleriot in 1909. Bleriot, who was essentially an engineer and an auto parts manufacturer, had been interested in aviation for nearly a decade. His fascination with flight nagged at him until he designed his own airplane, built it, and climbed into the pilot’s seat. Of course he didn’t do all this work personally. But he was a major player in the early days of aviation, and so we owe him a great debt of gratitude for several of his accomplishments. Louis was a trailblazer, as we all can be, given the opportunity and the drive.
In truth Louis built multiple airplanes. But by 1909 he had taken to the skies over France in his best design yet, the Bleriot XI. This contraption made of wood and cloth and wire was an airplane that could stay aloft for nearly an hour, which was a remarkable feat for the time. And that presented an opportunity.
As we all know today, the purpose of an airplane is to get from here to there, regardless of where there might be. Some of us make the trip in one hop. Sometimes we take it in multiple legs. Either way, we plan our flight, check the weather, and we go. That’s how aviation works.
Louis wanted to see if he could pilot his aircraft over the horizon, from France to England, across the Channel. Today the flight would be nothing out of the ordinary. It’s only 21 miles, after all. Not even far enough to qualify as a cross-country flight for a student pilot. But in 1909 it was a momentous feat of daring. And so it came to be that Louis Bleriot headed west, and after 124 years became the second manned flying machine to cross the English Channel. The first was a balloon traveling in the other direction, carrying a Frenchman and an American, in 1785.
International travel by air has done nothing but become easier, safer, faster, and more attractive since those first flights. Because Bleriot crossing the Channel led to Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, and Charles Kingsford Smith who crossed the Pacific by air. The world got smaller, and smarter, and became more connected with each new aviation adventure.
This matters to us because when we look back on aviation’s history we can see its international appeal. While Americans invented the airplane, the French took the lead in its development in those early years. The entire international community jumped on board as time and technology allowed, until the limitation of aviation was more political than technological. By the time the airplane had progressed to the point that turbine powered transports could reach virtually any corner of the globe, aircraft were either welcomed for the commerce they brought with them, or shunned because of the nearly unfettered freedom they represented.
That is our current state of affairs. It’s not only foreign countries with a penchant for controlling their airspace and their population that resist more open access by air, but many communities right here in our own back yards find the idea of an aviation base in their midst…troubling.
As the purveyors of mankind’s greatest technological marvel, it falls to us to tell the story. The task is ours, to put the benefits of aviation into a context our friends and neighbors can understand, to show them what access to aviation can do for a community of any size.
As aviation enthusiasts know, aviation brings expanded opportunities for commerce. It enhances educational opportunities. It allows for emergency medical care and law enforcement alternatives that simply are not available without an aviation-oriented base in town. And perhaps most of all, it allows the dreams of individual boys and girls to blossom and grow into a bold new reality that puts astronauts on the moon or Mars. It brings newer, better technologies into our homes and offices, and it provides an opportunity for each of us to reach our own goals — whatever those goals might be.
Aviation is inherently international. The appeal and the benefits cross all borders, if we allow it to.
Let’s do better than just allowing it. Let’s encourage it. Rather than simply marching in the great aviation parade, let’s become leaders who establish a direction, gather a crowd, and start out on an adventure to a bolder, brighter tomorrow. Like Louis Bleriot and his fragile little airplane made of nothing but wood and fabric and wire — let’s change the world. We can do that.
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 JamieBeckett.com. He can be reached at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.