As I stumble to my computer this morning, a little bleary and weakened, fewer than 18 hours after departing the grounds of the 2021 SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo, there are two impressions that linger in my mind.
Kudos to the organizers of the second largest aviation gathering in North America and the vendors who came out to show their wares. Attendance was off the charts. Attitudes were positive to begin with and found themselves elevated as the show went on. And let’s not forget the thousands of volunteers and remarkable performers who handle those massive crowds so well and entertain them so magnificently.
Also, I would be remiss in my duties as an aviation advocate if I didn’t offer a heartfelt tip of the hat to the individuals (many of whom are anonymous) and companies that provide financial support to the educational programming that happens on site at SUN ‘n FUN and around the region.
A special thanks to Double M Aviation, a tenant at Lakeland Linder International Airport, for hosting a tremendously successful fundraiser for the Lakeland Aero Club on Saturday night. With a band on stage, great food, bins filled with cold drinks, and a ramp facing the flight line that provided an excellent view of the night air show, the owners and employees of Double M Aviation really showed the type of impact any of us can have if we create a plan and commit ourselves to making the effort.
Now, on to the crux of the issue.
Impression Number 1: People have questions.
Truthfully, my compatriots and I were given the chance to interact with thousands of people at the show, many of whom have questions. Serious questions. Those people range in age from their early teens to their golden years. Questions span a broad spectrum from “where can I learn to fly,” to “can you help me understand how BasicMed works?” and more.
Of course, we weren’t the only folks being peppered with questions from attendees who came from near and far. Virtually everyone wearing a name badge finds themselves being approached for information of one sort of another. That is to be expected. The name plate on the breast of one’s shirt suggests a certain professionalism, imparting in the curious questioner the belief they must be addressing an individual with real insight.
Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not.
Now and then my wife accompanies me when I travel to a reasonably nearby location to conduct a seminar or work with a group to help make their aeronautical experience more satisfying. It is not at all uncommon for an attendee or two to approach her while I am otherwise engaged to ask very specific questions about aircraft, airspace, medical issues, finances, or the best practices for management. She is very good at diplomatically diffusing the situation by letting them know that she is not a pilot, or a business owner, or even particularly interested in aviation.
She has no answers. But she can introduce them to someone who would be interested in talking to them — someone who does have answers.
Impression Number 2: People have answers.
This is unassailably true. There are myriad smart cookies out there wandering the flightline and manning the desk at an aviation business, but there are also a fair number of folks who are more than willing to pontificate on the topic of your choosing, whether they know anything of value or not.
Some years ago, I experienced a painfully long exposure to an enthusiastic gentleman who wanted nothing more than to share his passionate interest in aviation with any and all who would hear him out. Unfortunately, although he was unabashedly zealous in his quest to share knowledge, he didn’t actually have much knowledge to share.
More than once a curious airshow attendee would approach me to ask a specific and seemingly important question about how they might make progress toward their aviation goals. Without fail they would be answered immediately and with great force by my errant visitor who would begin each exchange saying, “I’m not a pilot, but my son is…” before launching off into an explanation of the issue and a lengthy string of suggestions, none of which had any real value to the individual asking the question.
This is an especially serious issue for teenagers. I’ve got a young girl in one of the flying clubs I work with who had dreams of flying for the U.S. Air Force and possibly attending the U.S. Air Force Academy. She’s smart, has outstanding grades, is involved in JROTC at her school, and is an active vice president of the flying club. Yet her school’s guidance counselor deflated her hopes, telling her she’d waited too long. At 17 years old her ship had sailed. She would have to find another dream to pursue.
That’s absolute nonsense. When I was able to connect her to people with actual military experience, she was elated to find her dream was as viable as ever. She’s actively pursuing it today.
People have questions. Other people have answers. The key is to find the folks who have enough insight, sufficient networking potential, and relevant experience to help you find the right answers to your questions.
There is indeed more than one way to skin a cat (although I have no idea why anyone would want to try any of them), and there are a multitude of paths that will lead you, your kids, and your grandchildren to a brighter future in aviation. Which path you take is up to you.
Finding the right one is a lot easier and far more productive if you consult with a knowledgeable individual who has a connection to the field, not just some random dude who is nearby, easy to access, and tells a seemingly plausible story.
It’s a buyer beware world, even when the product is nothing more than a conversation.