SUN ’n FUN always marks a big time of year for many of us who fly elsewhere throughout the country.
It marks the end of the season where our priorities are making sure the engine heater is plugged in, the snow and ice are chipped away from the hangar door, and weight-and-balance includes the weight of a parka.
We can now look ahead toward calm evening flying, open hangar doors, and the company of friends who have projects we can “inspect.”
Those idyllic images are what come to mind when we think about grassroots flying.
Those kinds of warm, friendly experiences make it all worth it, because being involved in aviation has always been a challenge. It’s the kind of challenge that we accept, though, because we have a passion to fly that binds us together.
The Experimental Aircraft Association’s founder Paul Poberezny often talked of making sure the “little guy” had a place in the national aviation conversation.
When asked who the little guy was, Paul never missed a beat, saying, “The little guy is anyone who pays his own way.”
As he often did, Paul brought truth and unity to a diverse community.
We in grassroots aviation fly everything from ultralights to jet warbirds, but we share the idea that an individual should have the access and freedom to pursue flying, just the same as those who see aviation as a purely commercial venture.
That’s important as we face many of the issues that challenge recreational aviation today.
One of the most recent and most important was the battle over privatization of the national airspace system.
EAA quickly stepped into that debate when legislation was introduced in late January, because there was a dire, immediate threat to our access to the sky. Such key issues as aeromedical reform would become moot if we didn’t have access to the airspace system in the first place.
EAA members saw that threat as well, as thousands of letters and emails went to Congress. Soon, the House leadership dropped the bill from possible floor debate. The issue is far from dead — we must remain vigilant to measures that would have negative consequences to our individual ability to fly.
Note that I wrote that “we” must remain vigilant — not just EAA headquarters, or GA’s Washington lobbyists, or those who follow such goings-on closely. When you hear an airport friend say that someone has to do something to protect and build aviation, remember that someone is us.
Each one of us has a responsibility to our greater flying community. As much as we’d sometimes like to hide in our hangar and only emerge on calm, sunny days to go flying, we can’t. We all must be engaged to ensure we have those future flying days.
That can mean being engaged when issues demand it to protect grassroots flying.
It also means more of the fun stuff: Sharing our passion for flying with others. That’s where I can get back to talking about fun things.
This year, EAA’s Young Eagles program will fly its 2 millionth young person. Think about that — what an incredible accomplishment! And it happened because the idea that “someone” should fly kids became a program where “we” fly kids.
It’s even more gratifying when I meet some of the early Young Eagles from the 1990s who are now flying Young Eagles, too. They were the next generation of aviation we wanted to reach 24 years ago. Now they are reaching the new next generation. We’re going to celebrate this remarkable achievement at Oshkosh in July.
There are other ways we can protect and grow grassroots flying. For EAA, it means everything from Eagle Flights and SportAir Workshops to AirVenture and our great chapter network.
Beyond that, though, we must remember that although at SUN ‘n FUN and Oshkosh it looks as if there are many of us, we are a small community. We must think of our ourselves as grassroots aviators first, ahead of whether we are homebuilders or warbirds or ultralighters or vintage fliers.
Only then can we have the freedom, as Paul was also fond of saying, to explore that great ocean of air above us.