You’ve heard this old bromide many times. We all have. There’s probably a bumper sticker with it printed between images of a map of the world and a cuddly puppy. There are certainly similarly worded inspirational posters slapped up in classrooms and office spaces all over the country.
But have you really thought about it? I mean really considered what it means?
Journeys aren’t always measured by distance. Sure, it could be said that traveling from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to San Ysidro, Calif., constitutes a journey.And that journey would most assuredly start with a single step, regardless whether that step led to a car, a train, or an airplane. I suppose it might lead to a ship if you were willing to take the long way around, too.
The transition from high school student to competent professional is a journey, too. And like the cross-country jaunt mentioned above, it begins with a single step.
Perhaps it’s a tic mark on a checklist, or a random encounter with someone older and more accomplished in a coffee shop. Or it could be an epiphany followed by a sense of dedication to the decision, “I want to do that.”
For Paul McCartney it was as simple as taking a walk down to the local church fair, where he met a slightly older, decidedly more brash but equally talented young man named John Lennon. They decided to throw in together to see what might happen. That journey turned out well for all of us.
Neil Armstrong may be listed in history books as the first man to take a step on the moon, but his first steps along the path that led there began with a ride in a Ford Trimotor and several years later, flight lessons in an Aeronca Champ.
The Trimotor may be a bit exotic these days, but the Champ is as ubiquitous as it ever was, with inexpensive and perfectly viable examples available from coast to coast.
It’s not just the rich and famous who start small and get big. We all do. Every one of us. Or we can if we try.
There’s no doubt that my fascination with flight has something to do with my father’s involvement in the industry. As regular readers of this column may recall, my dad flew F-86s for the US Air Force. He piloted C-119s as a US Air Force Reserve pilot, and he cruised around the entire world, over the north and south poles in a Pan Am 747SP as part of a crew that set a world speed record that stands to this day. But that’s where he ended up, it’s not where he started.
The old man’s first foray into aviation involved a short ride in the right seat of a humble Ercoupe. The thing didn’t even have rudder pedals for goodness sake.
My granddad worked at the St. Petersburg Times as a print room foreman throughout World War II. One of his co-workers was a pilot. He owned the Ercoupe. It was 1945 or ‘46 when a ride was offered. Granddad accepted and my dad took flight for the first time.
That was it. He was hooked.
The long and the short of it is, we who fly have the power to put people in the seat beside us, or behind us, or in front of us, as might be appropriate.
The person in that other seat might just be looking for a joy ride. They might be seeking nothing more profound than to see their neighborhood and their house from above. And that might be all they get out of the experience.
Or we might help them discover a path that will lead them to the next generation of fighters, or high altitude research aircraft, or long distance transport, or to the moon, or beyond.
That first step of their journey might not be a literal step. It might be simply meeting you at the airport. It might be their introduction to mechanics, or air traffic control, or airport administration, or the cockpit that launches their personal journey to who knows where.
It’s amazing but true: We, the current participants of general aviation, are the easiest, most cost-effective, and readily available conduit to the next great leap in human discovery. How cool is that?
Imagine the pride and wonder felt years later by the guy who booked the Quarrymen into the church fair, or Neil Armstrong’s primary instructor, or the Linotype operator whose passenger went on to captain airliners across oceans.
That might be you one day. It might be me. No matter who it is, it’s important that it’s somebody.
Thank goodness even the most humble general aviation enthusiast has the opportunity to play a part in this absolutely amazing part of human history.
We truly are the lucky ones. Yes we are. I urge you to savor that fact and continue to share the experience whenever you can.