Bad judgment lives at the confluence of ignorance and fear.
Not that most folks notice.
I direct you to an astoundingly popular activity that involves a carnie strapping you and a friend into a device intended to shoot you into the sky. It then allows you to drop at the speed of gravity, before boinging you back upward again, albeit to a slightly lower altitude this time.
That cycle repeats a time or two until the ride operator allows the structure you’re held in to descend to the ground. Safe at last.
This ride is tremendously popular. It exists in various tourist-rich places around the country under a variety of names. The cost can be as little as $25 for a single person to ride one time — $25 for a one-minute thrill.
It’s breathtaking, it’s gut-wrenching, it makes big strong men scream like terrified little girls, and it causes a fair number of folks pass to out from fear induced overstimulation. In some cases they pass out repeatedly.
I’ve got no kick against this ride, or any other for that matter. Thrill rides have been with us for a century or more.But what I find interesting is that people will line up to experience the sensations induced by a ride they have absolutely no understanding of or control over.
Some are powered by little more than giant rubber bands, operated by someone with unknown credentials, and the rider makes no attempt to inspect the hardware at all. They don’t even verify that inspections were done by a qualified individual or team of individuals. They just jump in, get nervous, and fly.
Contrast that with the experience virtually every pilot has had when inviting someone to fly with them for the first time. Oh, no. Now the real fear kicks in. We’re talking real life and death risk when we talk about airplanes. This is anxiety-inducing stuff.
Forget that the pilot has been educated in the various skills required to fly safely, and is tested rigorously and often.
Ignore the maintenance requirements that have aircraft owners tearing down their airplanes annually at the very least to inspect, detect, and repair any issues that might arise in the airframe or powerplant.
The passenger doesn’t know any of that. They just perceive flying as being dangerous, or at least risky, and very possibly a risk not worth taking.
Now try to compare and contrast these two scenarios. In one, the point is to be scared, or at least challenged by the complete loss of control the rider experiences.
In the other, the passenger is transported with great care from start to finish. Whether they land back where they started, or alight in some distant place for a meal or a visit, they do so in relative comfort with great care being taken to prevent anything sudden, violent, or risky from happening.
Is it just me or does anyone else find it ironic that the general public finds the first example to be a totally acceptable experience for even a small child to embark on, and the second is an activity to be avoided if at all possible?
This is a quandary. How do we as an industry correct the thinking of the average man and woman to see aviation for what it is? How do we make them aware that aviation benefits their lives each and every day, while the thrill rides they are so much more comfortable with provide little more than momentary stimulation?
I don’t have an answer for this question, but it does nag at me. I suspect it nags at you too – at least to some degree.
Last week I took a woman on her first airplane flight. I do this whenever I can, as I’m sure you’ve done.
I take great care to make sure my passenger is comfortable and aware of the plan for our flight before we ever get to the airplane. We walk out to the airplane, I show her around the basic features, explain that the Cessna 152 we’re going to be flying is an incredibly popular training aircraft and personal recreational vehicle.
We get in. I show her how to buckle up. I explain how the engine has its own electrical system and will keep running even if the alternator and battery fail. As we taxi I let my passenger take a stab at steering the airplane. They always get a kick out of using their feet to direct our path.They get involved in the flight well before we make it to the runway.
When we do roll onto the runway I ask them to follow me on the controls. I’ve rarely had someone decline the offer. I talk as we accelerate, letting them know I’m peeking at the tach to be sure we’ve got sufficient RPMs. I take a quick glance at the airspeed indicator now and then, but I’m primarily looking down the runway, watching the windsock, then back to the airspeed indicator. We rotate. Just a tad. We increase our angle of attack just a skosh and let the airplane fly itself off the ground.
Invariably my passengers smile. The liftoff is so gentle and gradual, not at all like the rocket-ship leap from the earth they’d imagined. Within a matter of seconds they find they’re in control. My hands are in my lap. The passenger has become the pilot.
This process takes longer than the simple thrill ride, but it provides a profound sense of awe and personal accomplishment.
How do we best tell that story? How can we best demonstrate the joy of flight to a wider and wider audience?
What’s your best idea? Leave it in the comments below. Who knows, maybe your idea is the one that will grab a new potential pilot and lead them to the airport. It could happen.