When the obvious is not obvious

What’s obvious and beneficial to one person may be a total mystery to another.

Put another way, you have to have a frame of reference if you’re going to make use of the tools available to you. That’s true whether the tools you’re working with are tangible or intangible. They may be physical items or concepts that have economic potential. Either way, if you don’t know what you’re working with, the odds of you working well with it are slim.

If you show a 50-year-old person a small plastic disc that’s an inch and a half wide and has a quarter-inch hole in the middle, they’ll know immediately that you’re looking at an adapter for a 45 RPM record. Records that ran at 33 1/3 RPM had a much smaller hole, only a quarter of an inch in diameter. The small hole in the center of the adapter fit over a pin in the center of the turntable. The 45 RPM record fit over the adapter, which kept it centered on the turntable and allowed it to play normally.

The odds are good that men of a certain age can identify a curved metal tube that is open at both ends, but includes a pointed knife-blade behind a curved protective cover on one end. The object is an oil spout. Back in the days before oil came in plastic bottles with twist off caps, it came in quart size cans. The cans had metal lids that could be pierced with the knife-blade, allowing the tube to slide down to the top of the can. Then you simply upended the can to pour oil into an engine’s filler hole.

These simple items don’t do much on their own, but they provide a foundation for much larger, more important processes to take place. Read that last sentence again. It’s important.

Without the oil filler tube, it’s difficult and messy to get oil into an engine. Without the requisite amount of oil, the engine runs hot and has a shorter life. Manufacturing costs rise and construction projects take longer if not for the presence of a simple metal tube used to pour oil.

Similarly, without the 45 RPM record adapter the school dance would degenerate into a room full of surly teenagers with nothing to do. Anyone who has ever seen that scenario knows it’s not going to end well.

So what’s all this have to do with aviation, or pilots, or you? It’s all about context.

Just as a person born after 1990 would find it difficult to identify the two items I’ve described, most people have a hard time understanding what the local airport is for. They have no idea that general aviation airports are often the training ground where future airline pilots and mechanics learn the skills that will enable them to serve the public. They don’t realize that freight and passengers move by air, sometimes in relatively small aircraft like Caravans or Twin Otters, or Jet Rangers.

The responsibility for sharing the story of General Aviation and its value to the community is ours. We are the proponents of the industry. We understand what’s happening behind the scenes and know why GA matters. In short, we get it. But what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to others. So we have to tell the story and tell it often and tell it in 100 different ways. We have to keep at it if we’re to have any hope of long term survival. That’s just the way it is.

My maternal grandfather was born in the very early days of the 20th Century. The technology of his youth was considerably different than the technology of mine. One of the indelible memories I have of him involves the two of us watching a western movie on television. I was younger than 10 years old. He was as old as the hills. Or at least he seemed pretty ancient to me at the time. As the cowboy on the screen grabbed a lantern off a post, struck a match and lit it, my grandfather flew into a rage, “That’s not the way you light an oil lamp,” he shouted. “That’s too much wick. You never do that.”

He was truly angry and because of his outburst the rest of the movie became unimportant and irrelevant to the situation at hand. But I learned something. My grandfather knew how to handle an oil lamp because they were a part of his real-life experience. My grandfather knew how to live in the early part of the 20th Century, before electricity, indoor plumbing, or central heating became commonplace. That was his area of expertise, and he shared it. I’m glad he did.

If you and I were to get out there in public and share our General Aviation experience and expertise just as ferociously as my grandfather defended the practice of lighting an oil lamp, I suspect General Aviation would be a whole lot better off. We might ruffle a few feathers along the way, but we’d win converts too.

And if there’s anything General Aviation could use, it’s a few more converts, or a few thousand more believers, or…well, you get the idea.


  1. Charles R. Wirt says

    Plastic oil bottles, what a concept! I tried to explain a low frequency radio range to a youngun one day, he couldn’t believe there ever was such a thing. I can teach about half the alphabet in Morse code in 10 minutes (hint: not in alphabetical order but by the form of the code), not that anyone cares anymore. No, you ani’t gonna send it but it helps to know enough to positively identify a navaid, or ask the Viet Nam POW who sent “TORTURE” by blinking his eyes.

  2. Edilio M. Robles says

    My father (who was born in 1912 in a small coal mining town in northern Spain) recounted to me about the first time he saw an airplane. He was five and walking on a mountain trail with his grandmother. All of a sudden they heard a noise coming from behind the mountains. And the noise got louder and closer. And it continued to grow louder and closer until it became overwhelming. And then they saw this thing up in the sky above them making all the terrible noise as it tried to fly higher than the mountain. And father said that his grandmother (not having ever seen an airplane) felt on her knees, covered her ears and loudly prayed to God to deliver them from that infernal flying thing. My father? He looked at the plane and though it was the most exciting thing he had ever seen. And he never lost that sense of acceptance of new things. And throughout his life he always seemed to look toward the future rather than dwelling on the way things used to be. (And although he never became a pilot he passed that sense of wonderment about aviation – and the future – to his son). So yes things change and these days they are changing exponentially but different people deal with change in different ways. Personally I hope I can deal with all the changes coming.

  3. Tom says

    My grandpa once did tell me,
    Don’t have too long of a wick,
    When you light a lantern it can be,
    Smoky to flick your Bic.

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