Periodically my eye is drawn to a bumper sticker while I’m out driving. Many are aviation oriented — or at least many of the stickers I see are. The slogans are familiar to you as well, I’m sure: “I’d rather be flying.” “My other car is an airplane.” “I love jet noise.”
They’re all positive messages. They all express a sense of pride and maybe even a bit of humor, as well as hinting at the joy flying brings to those of us who are fortunate enough to have taken the controls and guided a hunk of machinery into the sky then back to the ground again – intact. Still, I can’t for the life of me figure out what the point of these bumper stickers might be.
I realize that sounds less than supportive. It might even strike some readers as mean spirited. That’s not my intent at all, I assure you.
But seriously, what is the function of the bumper sticker? Are our ramps filled with new pilots who were inspired to fly when they saw a pro-aviation bumper sticker while in traffic? Are airplanes being cranked out at assembly lines across the country because bumper sticker slogans have increased the demand? Are high school and college level aviation programs being filled to capacity by students who discovered the allure of flight from a plastic sticker?
I don’t think so.
Let’s consider what that bumper sticker might say to the non-aviators who see it. More often than not, they will consider the owner of that sticker to be bragging. They see us as rich, greedy slackers already. The fact that we stick a sign in their face that essentially says, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, I’m better than you are,” isn’t helping our cause much. It’s probably not hurting us much either. But time and attrition are shrinking our numbers already. We don’t really need to add fuel to that fire.
What if we went the other way? What if our bumper stickers, our advertisements, and our demeanor took a whole new direction? I’m going to suggest we take a page from our grandparent’s book and focus more on pride and social accessibility and less on the, “I’m cooler than you are” vibe we’ve been giving off for these many years.
“Let me tell you about my grandchildren” may seem like a goofy message to put on the back of your car, but it carries a valuable and practical lesson for those of us who are focused on building up the dwindling numbers of the aviation community. The message conveys pride, but it also shows respect. It’s intended to celebrate someone else – and that’s a perspective people respond well to more often than not.
When an actor wins an Oscar, or a Tony, or a Golden Globe, they step up to the mic and with great excitement launch off into a speech that focuses largely on thanking other people. They don’t typically say, “Hey, look at me I won an award.” They say something more along the lines of, “I’m so proud to be recognized with this award, but without the help of so-and-so, I might have never gotten the chance to do what I do.”
I suspect there are few Academy Award winners who have a bumper sticker on the back of their car proclaiming their status as a big deal in Hollywood.
So let me suggest we take a different tone as we try to grow the pilot population, and increase the number of aircraft mechanics, while making our future airport administrators more aviation friendly. Let’s start sharing the love and thanking those who helped to get us where we are today. After all, we didn’t teach ourselves to fly, we had help. And whether we paid for that help on the civilian side or were driven to success by a military instructor who demanded our best effort, “Let me tell you about my flight instructor” might be a more agreeable message to share than the one we’ve been working with.
In my case there were many flight instructors. Some were excellent. Others left something to be desired. I tend to comment on the good ones and let the less than beneficial experiences I had at the hands of the bad ones go by the wayside. But I have no problem talking about my appreciation for the efforts of Keir Johnson, or John Martocchio who helped me so much during my initial training at Brainard Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. And I’ve written about my appreciation for what Todd Hendrickson did for me as he finished up my primary training and taught me to fly instruments.
As a working flight instructor I learned plenty from Todd Croly, Brad Randall, Don Palzere, and the mighty Frank Gallagher. They were all CFIs like me, but they all knew things I’d yet to learn, and they were good enough to share that knowledge with me.
It’s not about me and my experiences, though. It’s about us and the spotlight we can all shine on those who helped get us to where we are today.
And through that shared respect and admiration we can attract new aviation enthusiasts to the fold. We can regrow our numbers, enhance this industry, and help secure a growing interest in aeronautics and aerospace sciences for those in generations yet to come. It only takes a willingness to tell our stories, express our appreciation for the mentors we benefited from, and become mentors ourselves.
The path is not all that difficult, really. It’s clear and simple and well worth being a participant in the cause. Unfortunately, the instructions don’t fit on a bumper sticker very well.