Beyond the bumper sticker

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.


  1. Kimberly Bush says

    Unfortunately, we are seeking a buzz phrase that covers how those passionate about aviation truly feel. Or a sound byte, if you prefer.
    I agree that the ‘better than you’ approach is alienating potential aviators. Can anyone name the winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 1999 without looking it up?
    Focussing on the positives is the best way to make friends. While the media in general talks up the crashes, we should be publicizing the safe take-offs and landings. Who has the pull to randomly interview 25 various deplaning passengers on the local or national news and hear some “So glad I didn’t DRIVE” comments?
    (Yes, I have blonde hair, but my birth certificate verifies I wasn’t born last week)

      • Kimberly Bush says

        Mascot for the promotion? I would propose various ages and ethnic groups of real humans. What shall be their group nickname? (I know it is a tired old phrase, but I do believe it really IS the people who make the product attractive)

  2. unclelar says

    Let’s see, Jamie is a flight instructor and wants us to change our bumper stickers or other car adornments to reflect pride in our flight instructors instead of ourselves? Comparing academy award winners to private pilots? More from Jamie who rarely writes anything but platitudes and other self-serving drivel.

  3. Richard Baker says

    As for bumper stickers, those that will find them interesting will and those that don’t won’t. The message is that aviation is another part of life and ask me about it..

  4. RayLRiv says

    I’ve always looked at flying and general aviation as an investment with a purpose. Touting aviation’s educational benefits (risk management and decision making, scientific, math, and environmental uses), time-saving and emergency response applications are ways to minimize, counter and correct the perception of self-indulgence for the privileged few. Getting my PPL helped land my current job writing Aircraft Maintenance manuals. Eventually my employer reimbursed my tuition toward the MSM I earned last year from Embry Riddle, and my current pursuit of an Instrument rating (thanks to work backpay) should make available further management possibilities with my current employer or elsewhere.

  5. lindsay petre says

    I have all these stickers, plus a (pink) silhouette of my 152, on my ’97 camry. I have them so maybe folks will ask me about them, because i love to talk aviation!

  6. Jeff says

    The problem isn’t with the “I’d rather be flying” bumper sticker. The problem is with one’s perception. I’d bet 99% of the traveling public that read the sticker don’t give it another thought. Just another hobby.
    It’s not bragging and getting the spotlight on oneself. It is pride in what I do or can do, and that it is such a great experience I want to shout to the whole world what I love to do.
    All activities have license plate and bumper stickers. From the plain, “I’d rather be boating/fishing etc” to the borderline obscene “I do it in the water”!
    Is it bragging or pride to have the “My kid is on the honor role”?
    The more positive messages we can put out there, including the “I’d rather be flying” the better. Yes most think flying is expensive, but most don’t think it is elitist either.

    • Mike says

      I agree, it’s primarily pride, not bragging, for most, certainly is for myself.
      I have a small AOPA sticker and an Air Force sticker on my back window. A few times they have prompted someone to ask if I fly and they thought it was cool, so I’d say that is a positive for aviation.

  7. Matt says

    Sorry Jamie, I got few issues with bumper sticker art. As to why they say what they say, it because its art and its fine simply because someone said it. I don’t agree with some of the bumper stickers out there, but that is fine, its their right as American’s to use bumper stickers to say what they want. I don’t like all of the art out there either. Personally, being as much a car nut as a aviation nut, I wonder who ruins there vehicles paint or chrome with bumper stickers to begin with. It scums up paint or chrome and diminishes the value of the vehicle. As to positive thought or not, a bit of bragging isn’t a bad thing. If you worked hard and legitimately became one of the few to own, let alone fly an aircraft more power to you. I’m also an avid bicyclist and HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) fan. I own some unique bicycles that you row rather than pedal, if I had a bumper sticker that said “My other vehicle is powered by me” or “I row my other bike” what would you think then? Sure the Rowingbike is a $7,000 machine and is amazing, so you might say I’m bragging and showing off. But if I told you I bought my first one for less than a thousand dollars and rebuilt it up from the ground, could you still accuse me of showboating? As for talking about flight instructors…and flying….I have a very different view than you and many perhaps. I’m not wealthy and can not longer afford to fly. My experience in Hartford was very different then yours there too. I worked line at both Hartford and BDL at different times. I washed, waxed and vacuumed planes and was supposed to get hours in exchange, it was the only hope I had of flying. But the pilots in Hartford never delivered on their end of the deal. Later as an adult, most of the instructors I encountered in Hartford and Simsbury had less knowledge about aircraft, airport and aviation than I did. They themselves were often new to flying as well as aviation. Some were simply trying to support and grow a hobby they could not otherwise afford and their “real jobs” were elsewhere. Others lived by the meter and gave the minimum as they attempted to maximize their hours enabling them to move on to the next phase of a flying career.

    I’m all for expanding and growing our general aviation world. I cringe when I see the few remaining mom & pop airports for sale. Its long been my dream to own one.

    I also agree with you that passing along the names of good CFI’s is a service as well as an element of growth.

    I often speak of flying as I still do fly LTA and other aircraft. I’ve also lead bicycle rides through airports and arranged stops to meet tower and other airport people creating links to the community.

    I love aviation with all my heart and soul, as I do bicycling and fitness. I can often be heard listening to other peoples thoughts on these or other matters and I do respond, honestly to their thoughts. Hence part of why I am seen as a person passionate about these matters.

    But I’ve also been known to discount or provide the service for free to interested parties to create awareness and knowledge. I’ve rarely if ever seen CFI services discounted or given away enabling someone who has less than $20 or $30K in “fun money” to join the community in the most sincere way possible.

    And before you ask, yes, personal training or bicycling can also quickly become nearly as costly as flying. I’ve helped people bring their weight down from near death sentences to reasonably active people at great cost to myself, but no cost to them. Perhaps that is why I can no longer afford to fly.

    But as far as bumper stickers go (or T-shirt art)….”My other vehicle is people powered” or “My other vehicle flys past others” is indeed a bit of bragging, but its also a bit of a mystery. I could be talking about my bikes that my body can propel to 25 plus mph with ease, or about my LTA flights. The one thing I do agree is that saying like “Honk if you love to fly” or “Questions about flying? Ask me” might give pilots the chance to meet some interesting people who would make for great friends and if you are so inclined, people you might like to assist in joining the community.

  8. says

    What about the “My Other car is an Airplane” sticker that is on a 20 year old beater car :) ok actually that doesn’t work either because people see it as you putting your family second to a hobby. I’ve realized the one thing I hate is when you ask a pilot how much does it cost to own a certain type of airplane (in which they own). They typical answer is “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” this rubs me the wrong way. If you run the numbers owning a Cessna 172 M cost about as much as owning a speed boat or a big RV. The only real difference is the boat/RV you can do your own wrenching, but the upfront cost, the storage cost, and the fuel cost is about the same. I suppose the insurance may be a little more on the airplane. One other difference is with a boat like cars people don’t usually do 25k engine overhauls so they don’t charge themselves by the hour to use their own equipment.

    Honk! if you would rather be flying

  9. Rich says

    Most people that don’t know me well find out I’m a pilot by a picture on my desk or license plate frame or an AOPA or EAA sticker on my back window.
    That is usually enough to break the ice and start a conversation in which I tout the virtues of GA.

    I worked hard and spent a lot of money to achieve my goals.

    I sell GA to the public every chance I get but I won’t hide my light under a bushel.
    No, I ‘m gonna let it shine.

  10. says

    Relentless focus on a positive message is part of the solution, I agree. In our society, where “culture wars” are everywhere, we need a positive message that bridges the perceived gaps, not makes them seem even wider. In aviation we SAY we want to grow the pilot population, but our actions or inactions seem contrary to that stated goal. Well said Jamie!

  11. Allan says

    Hi Jamie,
    I very much like your article(s) you make a lot of sense in you’re writings which gives all of us pilots and aviation enthusiasts something to think about.

    I am British but did my Private Pilot training in Florida and enjoy coming back to the State every couple of months to fly out of KGIF or KLAL both local fields to my Florida home.
    I look forward to maybe meeting you on a ramp or in the FBO someday.
    Keep up the good work Sir.

    • says

      I am based at KGIF, Allan. I hope you will stop into the main terminal building and ask for me the next time you’re in the area. I would love to meet you and chat.

      Thanks for being a General Aviation News reader. And thanks for being a participant in GA, too!

      • allan says

        I will make a point of dropping by to see you Jamie, I did most of my flight training at KGIF with Tailwheels Ect. when they were based at the field before they relocated to KLAL
        I will be back in Florida at the end of the month and due to be at GIF to do a rental checkout with Sunstate Aviation.

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