Regular readers will remember that my last few columns have been on concerns with the proposed new unleaded avgas. Well I am done venting on that subject for now, so I am getting off that bully pulpit until the alphabet groups and the federal agencies produce some more column fodder.
And I am getting on my soap box: Recently I was driving across the state and was listening to talk radio. The subject of the discussion was David McCullough’s new book on the Wright brothers.
The thing that got to me was not that the book described the Wrights as geniuses, but that the announcers seemed surprised at this assessment.
In today’s world, we call almost everyone a genius from musicians to business leaders to even actors and entertainers.
But for some reason the conventional wisdom is that the Wright brothers were just two bicycle mechanics who just “lucked” into a way to break the bonds of earth and fly.
In reality, the Wrights may not have been college graduates nor associated with a large company or institution, but they were the two leading scientists on heavier than air aircraft in the world at that time.
Their work was based on solid research that showed that they were scientifically ahead of everyone else in the world, but they are still primarily known as bicycle mechanics.
In today’s world, we have “rocket scientists” who work on military and commercial aircraft. But general aviation has an air of being just shade tree mechanics playing with unsafe, noisy toys that do not really help mankind in any significant way.
For example, back in the early 1980s I was transferred to the aviation products area at Shell Oil. One of my first duties was to staff the Shell booth at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. At the end of the show, I had only talked to one pilot who flew a piston powered aircraft, the rest were all jet or turbo prop operators.
Since we were there promoting piston engine products, this seemed like a waste of time to me. The management team all had the same answer: “We have always done the NBAA.”
When I suggested we go to Oshkosh, they all said “that is just a bunch of guys with chainsaw motors on gliders” and “not our target market.” They finally gave in and we have been at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture ever since.
I do not tell this story to make me look like a genius. It was a very obvious suggestion to anyone who knew that a DC-9 was not the smallest plane ever made.
So what is the point of this column? I am not completely sure — maybe it is just my frustration with the way the world views the GA community.
Part of the problem is that commercial and military aviation get a lot of publicity from advertisements and positive news stories. GA has almost no general public advertisement and the only news we hear is of a GA plane accident anywhere in the world.
Also, the military and commercial aviation industries have made great technology advances. GA still uses engines designed in the 1930s and 1940s.
Compare the appearance and performance for a 1950s GA aircraft to a new one — they are quite similar. Now compare a 1950s commercial or military aircraft to a modern one. They are totally different.
So what can we do? We need to bring GA into the 21st century. We are seeing a start with the light-sport aircraft and some of the electronics, but we need to bring the rest of the business along.
For example, GPS is common in almost every car and cell phone. It needs to be used in almost every airplane so that pilots at least have a good guess as to where they are.
Then there is the subject of aircraft engines. Why do we have auto diesel engines converted to aircraft, but no one has thought of using an auto gasoline engine and modifying it to run in an aircraft on simple auto gas. I know we have conversion kits, but why not put a Ford Eco-boost 4 cylinder engine that produces well over 200 hp in an aircraft from the factory?
They are dependable and will last thousands of hours and cost less than an overhaul on an aircraft engine.
Now I know about liability, but why can they do it with diesel and not gasoline?
The list goes on and on. GA companies seem afraid of change and they do not understand why the world has passed them by. We have been to the mountain and we have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.