Over the course of my life I’ve had the opportunity to make a few million choices. There’s nothing unusual about that. We all make choices. Should we have red wine with dinner, or white? Should we have wine at all? Fish or chicken? You know the drill.
Of those many choices I’ve made over the last half century, I’ve chosen to fly. And I haven’t made that choice just once. I’ve made it over and over again.
Each opportunity to fly requires an entirely new set of answers to a well-established list of questions. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Either way, the desire is there and the will to get airborne persists.For many of the uninitiated, the core question isn’t whether we should fly or shouldn’t fly.
Like the ubiquitous availability of electricity, coffee shops, and Justin Bieber jokes, much of the population of earth just accepts that flight exists. Yet they don’t see themselves as participants.
For them, aviation is something other people do. It’s for the exceptionally wealthy and those who are willing to take monumental risks with their safety. Certainly it’s not for the average guy or girl next door, is it? After all, it’s scary and at least a little dangerous, or maybe a lot.
If general aviation is to grow and thrive, our industry is going to have to confront those erroneous thought patterns at some point. And not just in aviation publications, either. We’re going to have to go mainstream.
It’s incumbent upon us to share the message of why we fly with a larger audience, the general population of our planet, and let them see beyond the news coverage that seems intent on focusing on nothing but the fear factor.
Perhaps the best recent example I can share of how we can spread the word of what aviation really is, and why we choose to fly, was made when Dierks Bentley stepped up to the podium at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention this year.
The country music sensation told a very personal story of why aviation works for him. In short, it allows him to play music to live audiences far and wide, yet still get home to spend time with his family. He sits in the front seat, handling the controls of the aircraft while at the same time taking an active role in directing his own life.
The three remaining seats are filled by his band members who see a personal benefit to the availability of point to point travel using general aviation.
In the flying club I belong to there are no celebrities, no recording stars, and no millionaires.
Yet fathers find an opportunity to expose their teenage sons to aviation and aviators in an environment that can expand their intellectual, creative, and professional horizons.
Husbands and wives belong and enjoy the tighter union they establish thanks to an activity they both find appealing, even if their reasons for participation differ slightly.
Young women belong and come to recognize themselves as valuable team members who are treated with respect and even admiration by their fellow club members.
I choose to fly. There’s something about being at the controls of an airplane in flight that appeals to me on an emotional level. The fact that I can share that experience with others, opening up their world in the process, and giving them at least a peek into the potential their life might hold — that provides me with a personal satisfaction I don’t get from anything else.
When my son was 8 years old I got the opportunity to put him in the left seat of a Cessna 152. We spent a couple hours flying around a substantial portion of Connecticut and Rhode Island on a beautiful fall afternoon. The memory I have of him wearing oversize sunglasses, with a pair of David Clarks balanced precariously on his little head, while he sat so erect to see over the panel, still warms my heart. He steered the airplane down the Connecticut River Valley toward Long Island Sound, flew out to Westerly, R.I., and came back again. It was a red letter day in this dad’s life.
My youngest daughter began washing airplanes to earn a flight lesson or two when she was 10. Because I’m a forward-thinking dad with a strong belief that role models matter, I arranged for her to fly with women exclusively in her younger years. She didn’t have to believe me when I said women could fly, or do anything else they wanted to do. She saw it up close, first hand, over and over again.
As you can imagine, it’s been particularly gratifying when we’ve been able to fly together now that she’s closing in on being an adult. Whether she sits in the left seat and flies, or the right seat and sight-sees, is entirely her choice.
She’s gained an understanding of the airplane, and of her options while she’s in it. If you see us flying together you may sense a slight swelling of pride from the old man while my youngest sits beside me. We’ve bonded a bit over aviation, in a way that I’ve discovered is beyond the comprehension of most father/daughter pairings.
I choose to fly and I choose to share that gift whenever I can with whomever is willing, or curious.
I accept the responsibility of planning, and briefing, and risk assessment that comes with the territory.
And I enjoy the benefits of being the guy who opens up a whole new world to people who never thought they’d do something as amazing as take the controls of an airplane in flight.
But they do, because they can, because somebody makes it possible.