I came to flying later than many. In part because I was sort of a hippie kid more attracted to the idea of playing guitar professionally than suiting up as a member of the military.
And while those two paths might not seem mutually exclusive today, in the Viet Nam era they were often thought of as two distinct paths that never, ever intersected. Plus, I wasn’t too bright.
When I was young, I was so dumb, I actually believed that every pilot in the world was an active duty military pilot, or had been at one time. In my defense, I believed this because I had essentially been taught this as if it were true. I knew a pilot or two who were former military pilots, and they suggested and reinforced my errant belief fairly often.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s when I was enlightened by a magazine article. It seems anyone who wants to can learn to fly. I had no idea. But armed with that very exciting news, I sought out a ground school program and signed up for flight lessons.
Because I wanted to. That’s a key point. I wanted to, and that drive to be successful paid off for me.
As I stood on the ramp at Long Island MacArthur Airport waiting for my perpetually late flight instructor to show up, I witnessed a scene that has stuck with me. Two couples were headed across the ramp toward a row of tied-down aircraft.
The first couple weren’t much older than I was. They were good looking, appeared to be successful, and gave the impression of being well motivated. They moved as if they were a team. It was impossible to tell from their demeanor which was the pilot, the man or the woman. Maybe both of them were pilots. They certainly carried themselves with an air of confidence as they approached the low-wing monoplane they intended to fly.
Behind them another couple of similar age and style of dress were decidedly less impressive. The woman was on her butt, feet planted into the pavement, screaming and struggling to get away. Her significant other was laughing as he grasped her hands, pulling her toward the flight line. It was obvious for all to see that she was desperate to stay away from the airplanes, and he was just as insistent that she’d come fly with him.
This really happened. As ridiculous as it may seem, it happened.
We aviation enthusiasts are comfortable — even excited — at the idea of flying. However, it’s worth remembering that not everyone shares our perspective on the act of becoming airborne. Some people just flat out don’t want to fly.
Now, this is an important consideration, so please take it to heart. Their reticence to fly doesn’t mean they’re virulently anti-aviation. They may in fact be intrigued by the idea of flying. They just haven’t made the leap to seeing themselves in the air just yet. Maybe they ate too much for breakfast and don’t feel great. Perhaps they had a bad experience in the air once. Or maybe they’re just uncomfortable with trying new things.
Let’s do something really revolutionary and respect their choice. Let’s not take them flying.
What are the odds, do you suppose, that the woman skidding across the ramp on her backside found that first flight appealing? Her date may have felt victorious when he finally pressed her flailing form into the airplane by sheer force, strapped her in, and compelled her to accept her fate. But do you think she came away from that experience with a big ol’ smile on her face and a strong desire to go again? Somehow, I doubt it.
This all came back to me recently as my flying club prepares to host a Boy Scout/Girl Scout Day at our hangar. One Scoutmaster, when presented with the invitation, practically recoiled in horror.
He adamantly opposed the idea of his young charges visiting an airport if there was even the slightest chance even one of his scouts might be offered a flight. The risk, as he saw it, was enormous. His liability was incalculable. He drew a line in the sand and made it clear that no man, or boy, would cross. Not on his watch.
His reaction is disappointing. But the solution is not to insist on the scouts attending and flying if they’re offered a ride. The better solution is to arrange the visit and accept that limitation that no flights will occur. In fact, it might be worth going so far as to assure the Scoutmaster that engines won’t run, aircraft won’t move.
This will be a totally static display with keys out and stored away. The boys will be able to look at the airplanes, sit in them, ask questions, and learn about how they work. But under no circumstances will they be offered flights. Not on that day. No sir. We’ll be ground-bound for the day and that’s that.
Is that an extreme position? Maybe. Is it an over-reaction to a perceived risk? Probably. But it’s also a compromise that could put a group of young men into close proximity with aircraft, most likely for the first time in their lives. If setting that limit gets the kids in the door, it might be the smartest deal available for all sides.
Of course once their appetite is whetted, and if they go away with a contact they can call on to follow up with, it’s at least possible their burgeoning interest in flight might be allowed to flourish on another day, with parental consent and a far more supportive atmosphere.
So let’s not go flying. It might be the best way available to get some folks acquainted with aviation, leave them with a positive impression, and plant a seed that leads a boy or girl to say, “Hey, let’s go out to the airport again!”