In this political season, like every political season, we see divisions forming.
In many cases those cracks in the American facade happen between people who would be better served by a united force.
Each candidate has their followers. Every point of view has an advocate. Parties square off for battle, often over problems that will only be exacerbated by the head-on assault.
This is nothing new. It happens on a major scale every four years, to a lesser extent every two years, and to a diminishing degree annually. But it happens, as it always does, and we as a people are worse for the bickering.
Aviation can and does rise above all this petty caterwauling.
That is one of the great attractions I feel toward aviation. Perhaps you sense it, too.
It makes little difference about how each of us might feel about the physics of flight. The science remains the same.
There are discoveries from time to time, revelations that bring about changes in aircraft design, construction, or operation that enhance the margins of safety. In fact, other than those ever expanding safety improvements, there is very little about aviation that can be enhanced by a vigorous debate or a catchy slogan.
Aviation may be the great equalizer in our lives. Truly. The four forces of flight, (lift, weight, thrust, and drag) care not one whit about which political party you align yourself with.
The aircraft does not fly because you do or don’t believe in fairness, or equality, income redistribution, or progressive tax rates. None of that matters.
And so, discussions on those points are superfluous to the pursuit of aviation. As the great and powerful Bill Murray so enthusiastically opined in the classic comedy, Meatballs: “It just doesn’t matter.”
In terms of flat out impartial equivalence, aviation is unbeatable. As the pilot advances the throttle, steers down the centerline, increases airspeed, and prepares to lift off the surface of the planet and rise into the sky above, the aircraft simply does not care who you are, what you think, whether you regularly attend a recognized house of worship, or eat organic vegetables. None of that matters.
Regardless of whether the pilot is wearing a T-shirt and shorts, or a prom dress and designer shoes, the aircraft will fly based on a collection of variables that have nothing to do with the odd, often pointless characteristics and beliefs the ground pounders put so much stock in.
I can almost hear Bill and his young Camp North Star campers chanting, now. “It just doesn’t matter.”
In what other endeavor can a 16-year-old newbie reasonably expect to perfect his or her performance to match that of a grizzled veteran? In most undertakings, that level of determination is discouraged. Just making the attempt is often considered a sign of disrespect. Yet in aviation it’s the norm.
Where else in life do we encourage people to become familiar with every aspect of the task they’ll be performing, then to operate with full command authority within a complex system that most people have no understanding of? Yes, aviation is the great equalizer.
Those of us who take up a place in the sky operate on a meritocracy system. If you can perform to a specified standard, the airspace is yours.
It makes no difference if you’re a 17-year-old girl wearing braces on her teeth, or a 50-year-old man sporting four bars on his epaulets.
Regardless of whether your aircraft sips daintily at 100LL or pours enormous quantities of Jet-A into its burners, the world is yours to explore. Gender, skin color, religion, political affiliations, and personal prejudices don’t enter into the discussion at all. If you can do it, you can do it. If you can’t, there are instructors and mentors available who have dedicated themselves to helping you up your game until you can perform the necessary tasks like a pro.
Social networking sites offer plenty of gathering places for those afflicted with the aviation bug. As you stroll the virtual grounds you’ll notice squabbles break out here and there. Disagreements are common.
Sometimes those flame wars focus on a political candidate, or a policy position mentioned in a televised debate.
Or they may have to do with staunch positions on the relative merits of mogas, a certain oil additive, or whether a particular airport restaurant serves a palatable cheeseburger or not.
Pilots are people after all. We fuss and fight with each other. We take positions on the issues of the day.
Some of us will adapt those positions over time. Others will criticize those who adapt for being flip-floppers.
ut none of that matters when the people doing the bickering leave the computer keyboard, or step out of the coffee shop, and slide into the cockpit of an aircraft. Long before the Master Switch is flicked on, a new mindset takes hold. A fresh attitude takes over. People become pilots, and a new standard of behavior replaces the squabbles of the ground-based world.
It might be interesting if the political world took a page from the Pilot’s Operating Handbook so neatly tucked into the seat-back of the airplane you fly. As pilots, our goal is to conduct the operation safely and effectively.
How we feel about the thing we’re doing or the people we’re doing it with is immaterial to the task at hand. From Sport Pilots to ATPs, we simply do the job to the best of our ability, take note of how we might have done it better, and endeavor to implement that improvement into our next flight.
Oh, if only the rest of the world worked so well and held themselves to such a high standard. What a wonderful, orderly, respectful experience this world might offer us.