Last week I found myself in a large hangar surrounded by perhaps as many as 150 individuals who self-identify as rusty pilots. They and I had traveled to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, to enjoy the company of fellow aviation enthusiasts at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association last regional fly-in of the year.
At this very moment there is a team of highly skilled professionals who are out of sight and largely out of mind, yet they have been tasked with solving an almost unimaginably difficult puzzle. They work for the NTSB and their charge is to figure out exactly what went wrong last week aboard SpaceShipTwo, the private sector launch system being developed by Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites, and a collection of truly gifted engineers, technologists, craftsmen, and pilots.
Like it or not, aviation enthusiasts are often classified by non-aviation enthusiasts as “those people.” As a card carrying member of the “those people” fan club, I’m often interested in how we’re perceived and routinely blamed for the ills of society by those who don’t understand us. In general, we’re neither loved or admired. Frequently we’re assumed to be outrageously wealthy, aloof, and selfish.
Rather than blame those who blame us, I did a little daydreaming about how this relationship came to be so dysfunctional. I was also curious how we might go about reversing the trend. Given enough time I’m sure I could have come up with a solution too, but a handful of proactive pilots in Paso Robles, California, beat me to it.
Last week the U.S. and the world missed a story that was right there, front and center for all to see. But we missed it. Not a word was spoken about a story that should have been news, but was instead, virtually invisible in the public consciousness.
Granted, the ebola scare has most people distracted from their normal day-to-day thoughts. Who can focus on deciding between going with cable or switching to satellite service when the specter of imminent doom is right there on the front page of your newspaper?
Nobody who is seriously involved in aviation is unaware of the concern that student pilot starts are down and student pilot completions are down. At the same time, aviation has become a critical part of the global economy.
Ideas abound for how the industry might combat this trend and hopefully reverse it. You may have one yourself. That’s great. If even a small percentage of those ideas work, fantastic. Progress is progress.
Have you heard of the Flying Musicians Association?
Last week I spent some time in Washington D.C. I had business in the area, but like most of us, when I get in the vicinity of the Mall, the monuments, and the Capital building, I find myself wanting to browse the wares of our country. There is art to peruse and documents to consider. Inventions large and small are collected there, as are homages to the achievements of average men and women who became heroic leaders through word and deed. And there are aircraft. Spacecraft, too.
The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum is one of the best visited museums on the planet. A quick glance around the main room can remove any mystery for why that might be.
News flash: I have just finished eating a $16 bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. That’s nothing. Last night I feasted on a $25 hamburger. Neither meal was unique, memorable, or impressive in any way other than the price.
I feel an analogy coming on.
Like it or not, most of us are followers. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s just a thing. A description of the way things are. A stand-alone fact. Most of us follow someone else, a political office holder, an employer, a manager, a spouse.
Among us there are leaders, but they are few. I’m talking about real leaders, not people with a title and their name in gold leaf on a door. Real leaders are rare. Paul Poberezny was a leader. He founded the Experimental Aircraft Association in the basement of his home. It would be hard to find less impressive surroundings. Yet the humble address and the cramped workspace wasn’t the point. Paul had a message to share, a belief that he didn’t just espouse, he lived. Paul got a crazy idea in his head that people could, and maybe even should, build their own aircraft and fly them.
It is well known in most circles that airlines travel on highways in the sky. Admittedly, most folks don’t know those highways are called airways, but the name is logical, whether the general public knows it or not.
However, few have made the obvious connection between the highway in the sky concept, and the airport in their town. Perhaps this is because aircraft, unlike automobiles, can choose to use the highway or go off-road (VFR) at will. And unlike automobile users, there are massive numbers of pilots flying off-road (VFR) every day, from coast to coast.
If you’re connected to social media in any way, you’ve no doubt spent a good deal of time in recent weeks watching people get wet. Like flagpole sitting, goldfish swallowing, and stuffing as many college kids into a VW bug as possible, it’s something of a fad. Most commonly referred to as the “ice bucket challenge,” this ridiculous excuse for personal exhibitionism actually has roots in a noble cause.
Roots are one thing. Where the branches go is something else.