By Tim Genc
Recently, we had a former graduate send us a coupon he had found in a very old aviation publication. It advertised an hour-long airplane ride for $5. We had a good chuckle over the clipping and talked a little bit about aviation and the industry. As the gentleman had been in aviation for much longer than myself, he was able to talk – with considerably more authority – on the way things used to be, and aviation “back in the day”.
It was a fun conversation over a fun piece of aviation nostalgia, but it got me thinking about how much things have changed between flying privately and in commercial pilot programs: the convenience of having access to a personal aircraft, the glamour and excitement of flying, but most importantly, the inspiration for aviation and becoming a pilot.
So many of us grew up during a time when aviation was still the key to “the final frontier”, a phrase that many high schoolers cannot relate to. The Space Race was not a level on a video game, it was a part of our upbringing and childhood; it was a catalyst for science-fiction, and the backdrop with which we could set our dreams. For us, NASA was our Hogwarts. It was a magical place where anything could happen, where heroes lived and where legends were born.
NASA was the dream and General Aviation was the vestibule to that dream. While soloing that Beechcraft Sport for the first time, I could hear the rockets firing and see the smoke billowing. During my first time as PIC, I had stepped into the same room as the astronauts that were akin to gods for every aviator.
Fast-forward a few decades, and space exploration is still an idolized entity. Only now, we’ve got movies like Top Gun to add a little bit of healthy adventure to the inspirational cocktail. Am I the only one who got back from his Private Pilot check ride in their commercial pilot program, looked at the examiner and started our debrief with, “Talk to me, Goose?” One-liners and timeless quips, motorcycles and “going Mach 2 with your hair on fire,” all set on the stage of aviation’s elite. The F-14 was the dream, but General Aviation was still the vestibule. The first solo is still what started it all.
Many of us, myself included, were fortunate to have our aviation inspiration handed to us on a silver platter. You couldn’t help but be awestruck by airplanes and being a pilot; everyone wanted to be an astronaut of a fireman. (I became a pilot and a paramedic to sample a bit of both!) I remember my first time on a plane when my family was going to Disney World. I don’t remember much about Disney World, but I remember being announced as a first time flyer by the Captain, getting to go into the cockpit, I got a pair of plastic pilot wings. It was incredible. Flying was special and it didn’t matter where you sat, or how much leg room you had, every seat was first class because you were on an airplane!
It seems that the love and alluring qualities of aviation have waned since then—is it possible that aviation is merely a medium or utility? Nothing more than a means to an end that is simply filled with “quality” iPad time? Are too many people born with a natural vaccination to the flying bug?
This is where we all must do our parts.
We must “pay it forward” to aviation and sing its praises at the tops of our lungs. We need to bring friends to the airports and brag about the unique brother and sisterhood of pilots. People who know we fly are going to ask us about it. Now, all of us have our unique stories and experiences; some positive, and some negative. While aviation, like every other industry, will have its ups and downs, it needs no help when it comes to the negative. We don’t need to dwell on accidents and mishaps, tell cavalier stories of when we bent the rules and we certainly don’t need to discourage people based on our own experiences, Many of us are time capsules for aviation, and our flying memories are unchanged, and undiluted – we still hold our first solos in such high regard. We need to share that with everyone we can, and give aviation the inspiration that was gifted to us. When it comes to what we relay to those asking us about our aviation journey, we need to remember things like our first solo, first check ride, getting our shirt tails cut off, landing at Meiggs field for a lesson, our first cross-country, breaking through the cloud to a world where sunglasses are required and leaving the overcast, grey day below, etc. Remember what made our private and commercial pilot program training memorable and awe-inspiring; convey those stories and those emotions.
Aviation is an adventure. It is fun and exhilarating, yet it is also peaceful and tranquil. It’s a vocation or hobby that is called to us. And now it needs our help. We’re the new astronauts. We’re Maverick and Goose. We need to carry the aviation standard, and we need to wave it proudly.