With an atonal buzz and a tin ear we toddle onward

There is a story that circulates in the music business that suggests an interesting parallel to general aviation. The story takes place in the late 1960s when Jimi Hendrix and his band arrived at the BBC studios to do a soundcheck in preparation for a performance to be recorded later in the day.

For those who are unfamiliar, a soundcheck is an abbreviated performance that allows the sound engineers to talk to the musicians, try each instrument in turn, try them all together, and find the various volumes and settings that allow the band to sound as they should for the performance.

Hendrix and the Experience ran through a few numbers to give the engineers a sense of what they sounded like. The engineers became quite concerned with technical issues and asked the band to play again. This process repeated until the interminably long soundcheck disturbed even the band’s manager. Chas Chandler, who not only managed Hendrix but also played bass for The Animals, scurried up to the engineer’s booth to find out what the problem was.

The engineers were beside themselves with frustration and worry. They explained that although they had tried everything the could think of, they weren’t able to stop the infernal squealing of feedback, or the crackling and banging that was so prominent on every song. To which Chandler supposed replied, “That’s the show, man!” or something to that effect.

The point of the story is pertinent because it so closely resembles what’s happening in general aviation today.

The old guard may be highly trained, respected, experienced, and absolutely necessary to the operation of the industry. But they are perplexed by the state the industry is in and they are resistant to accept changes that are foreign to them, even as they become the norm for many who are new to the industry.

Perhaps worst of all, many have become vocal detractors of the industry, bemoaning the departure of the good old days, and the bleak outlook they predict for the future.

This isn’t all that different from the engineers, concert musicians, and conductors who dismissed Hendrix’s music as noise, or the Beatles as little more than four young men with a disturbing hairstyle, or the Rolling Stones as a collection of thugs who had the audacity to carry musical instruments.

Aviation has seen this before, too. When the Wright brothers first flew, there were newspapers that refused the run the story, thinking the whole idea of a flying machine was too ridiculous to take seriously.

When Frank Whittle patented the turbine engine in 1930, it wasn’t just ignored, it was ridiculed. And so was its inventor.

When Billy Mitchell had the gumption to suggest an airplane could sink a battleship, he was scorned by his superiors. Not even a successful demonstration could change the high command’s thinking about the upstart who saw air-superiority as essential to military success so early in the 20th Century.

Today we have Richard Branson preparing to haul passengers into space as a commercial service. We’ve got glass panels in light-sport aircraft that make the navigation equipment in early Boeing 747s look inadequate. We’ve got Rotax engines showing up on general aviation aircraft in increasing numbers.

The ultimate conclusion of the general aviation fuel debate continues to be in question, and we have the unsettling irony of an industry that has grown to the point that it positively affects virtually every person on the planet – yet the number of detractors continues to grow, apparently oblivious to the fact that they are, themselves, using the services they deride as being elitist and unnecessary.

Transition can be ugly. Thankfully, we have a roadmap to follow. It’s provided by our own history where we see example after example of remarkable accomplishments being branded as nonsense before finally breaking through and finding a widening appeal that leads to a general acceptance in the market.

I live in a place where the local aerospace high school is growing. It’s so near its capacity, discussions are now underway to explore building a second aerospace high school facility. There are more students interested in the field than there is space to accommodate them, so we’re looking at our options to increase our capacity.

This is exactly the opposite of what is happening in many parts of the country. Our educational programs are thriving, our students are achieving, our student pilot starts are up and the number of high school and college students we have involved in some aspect of aerospace science is increasing.

This is all happening for one very simple reason: The people who are in a position to make good things happen have refused to accept the standard lament that general aviation is dying.

Instead we’re committed to forging ahead, into the present where there is a new look and feel to general aviation. It’s our students who will drag us into the future. They’ll see what we don’t yet envision.

Ah yes, the future of general aviation is bright indeed. This growing crop of new students is going to take us places we never thought possible.

And until that day comes, I’m going to whip out my phone, plug in my earbuds, and crank up some Jimi Hendrix Experience. Because I like that squealing, buzzing, crackling sound. It sounds like the future, no matter how far into the past it takes me. 


  1. Joey Royalton says

    The old guard may be highly trained, respected, experienced, and absolutely necessary to the operation of the industry. ……………………………..

    “Who in the hell is the old Guard?” The Ol’ days were not as rosy as they remember. From 1977 to 1984, Cessna went from 17,500 hourly employees down to 2900 total employees. In a 1973 Flying magazine, Wallace’s Cessna Citation a new small “slow” business jet was label as a Barnstorming “stunt” and sell 1000 of them in 10 years? Who is he fooling? I was there the 10th year when the 1000th Citation was delivered. Cessna stopped building all singles except for the Caravans and multi-engine pistions at or before ’86. This was good? Maybe? Maybe not. Do you think there were people there saying, fine if I can’t get a factory built I will build my own? Hey, come over to the EAA side of the fence and we will show you what we got. (I’m so glad we started building singles again. Independence factory been going strong for over ten years now ). Do you think 20 years from now there will be a new set of “old guard” saying 2014 was the good ol’ days? The more we change, the more we stay the same. Tell me something, I grew up with the Beatles and Stones, also. So what do you think of the “new” generation’s music? Careful, you could be talking about yourself being the “ol guard”. Wow a new generation avionics system – VORs Wait, Now Rnav, Holy Cow GPS, Yes, Date yourself. Dick Tray calling Go Go Gomez.
    What was Dick Tracy, the cartoon character, talking into? We are almost to the point we are using the device today. (that device is just fantasy. That will be the day my Mom said) My Mom told me when I was growing up, I feel sorry for your generation. We, (My Mom’s Bob Hope’s generation) had it made. Each new generation will have its own set of challenges be it World Money Crisis, Governments, (domestic and foreign) and/or other factions that man was not meant to be flying. They WILL have people that will be like you are doing, promoting aviation well into the future because when ask why, They always WILL reply: WHY NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????????????????????????? Oh and so you don’t have to google it, Dick Tracy was talking into a TV set that was tiny enough to fit on his wrist……………. At the time of this cartoon, they were coming out with the newest generation video/audio devices — it was called a color TV broadcasting color pictures across the air waves into your private home. A theater in your living room…………. I think I remember them weighing close to 100 lbs. for a 20 inch screen TV.

  2. says

    Great analogy. Change is never easy, especially when it’s something people are so invested in and passionate about. I’ve long argued that GA is changing from a foundation of factory-built airplanes to one of retrofit/refurbished airframes and a rapidly growing E-AB sector.

    The positive attitude is good and important, but the view can vary dramatically depending on where you’re coming from. If you’re flying in the Polk area, life is good. But I doubt those who call SMO “home” think things look quite so rosy.

  3. Len Assante says

    Consider that nail hit squarely on the head! Thanks Jamie for saying in public what many of us think in private. The “Florida Model” shows there is hope if we all come together. I look forward to our future, and await with great anticipation some of the comments that will undoubtedly follow here.

  4. says

    Very good story, Jamie. Last week I read an online story about one old-timer’s worries about the new Part 23 changes coming. Then there was another writer recently complaining about how those horrible new light sport aircraft were hurting GA training.

    Don’t know if you wrote this in response to any of that, but it certainly fits. Or maybe you just like the Stones. Either way, good job!

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