Syd Jones is not your average guy. From his early adulthood, he’s been…let’s say, unique. Not content to follow the traditional path of a young man fresh out of an educational institution, Syd didn’t find the idea of a regular, stable office job to be all that appealing. Hunting for pirate treasure? Well that’s something else entirely. That sounded exciting. So that’s what Syd did. He joined forces with Mel Fisher’s fledgling band of divers and salvage experts in training and they went after the Nuestra Senora de Atoche.
Amazing things can happen if you just take the time to open your door, invite the neighbors over for a burger, and let them experience for themselves what lights a fire in your belly.
Case in point…Bartow Municipal Airport (BOW) is located smack dab in the middle of the Florida panhandle. It’s not far from the tourist draws of Disney World, Universal Studios, Legoland, or the miles and miles of pristine beaches that stretch out on the east and west coast of the state. But it’s far enough from those population dense destinations that it’s surrounded by green landscapes, open spaces, and a relaxed atmosphere that has an undeniable appeal.
I have no idea why, but the best topics of conversation seem to come up most frequently over a meal. Case in point: I was at lunch with a good friend recently. A musician, my friend is a supremely talented man who knows a thing or two about pushing himself to improve at a skill most of us do little more than dabble at. The waitress interrupted us briefly to ask a question about learning to fly, and so we had a short but very enjoyable chat about flight training right there in the middle of a lunch that would have never touched on the subject had it not been for the happy accident of her injecting the topic into our conversation.
After she’d left the table my friend, the musician, asked a question that really resonated with me. “Why would anyone want to learn to fly?” he queried. His inquiry was sincere. It wasn’t a challenge and he implied nothing negative or combative in his question.
My friend simply couldn’t understand why anyone would put themselves through all that work, through the hours of study and practice and expense required to become a pilot.
Here’s a pertinent and timely question for you to ponder. What does general aviation have in common with the Christmas shopping season? The answer is unfortunately both depressing and obvious — Nothing.
Let’s set about changing that. You and me. Right now. Today.
In a closet at my grandfather’s house, there is a toolbox. It’s a long, narrow rectangular thing, not at all like a toolbox you might find in the local home improvement store today. It’s made of wood with strong, steel hinges and an equally robust hasp, all of which have been worn by time.
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?