“I just don’t feel like I’m inspired to fly,” a good friend of mine said in a conversation we had not too long ago. We were having a long conversation about the state of General Aviation when we came to this point. “I feel like I need a new aviation ‘hero’ to get me going again,” he continued. “Well, not a hero, but at least someone who makes me feel like flying is really cool or something I want to do again.”
The hard part of this realization was that I couldn’t really disagree with him. What’s worse is that neither of us are just involved in aviation part time. I fly regularly as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, as a flight instructor, and as a contract pilot. But I don’t fly in my spare time much anymore. Sure, I fly personally for travel, and I still much prefer this to driving a ground based vehicle, but it is more about function than inspiration. And I can’t say that I don’t still love it. I still get geeked out by the fact that I am defying gravity behind a big fan in a pile of tin (or in some cases composite) powered by dead dinosaurs, but I do have hard time coming up with what I can tell others to inspire them to involvement. Greg, my friend with whom I was talking, isn’t newbie either. He is a pilot and has worked for years in the aviation industry as a writer and editor, but he hasn’t been actively flying the last few years as a pilot. He hasn’t felt inspired.
Our conversation continued, discussing “the old days” when pilots were inspired by aviation heroes of wars, those who accomplished first feats in aviation, and in essence, the pioneers who brought our industry to life and to where it is now. But our connection with these whose last names include those of Wright, Earhart, Post, Yeager, and Hoover to name only a few represent accomplishments that are either no longer mystical and unachievable or are simply irrelevant to our current lives. While we both recognized the heroes status of these and others, it isn’t what we feel we are missing today. Inspiration to be involved today is something we need.
Some of the mysticism of aviation is gone because of the capabilities of aircraft has been expanded so much. Flying an aircraft around the world is no longer an unachievable or amazing feat. It happens daily now. Ok, so there are still some particular makes and models of aircraft that are less feasible to use when completing these flights and that can add challenge, but it isn’t truly inspirational and it isn’t something that the average pilot will look to in order to motivate them to regular aviation activity.
As we talked further, we both came to the conclusion that there are inspiring things happening in aviation still, but as an industry we might not be doing the best job of celebrating these activities. Not long ago I flew a Wings of Mercy flight and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a patient for whom I had previously conducted a flight in 2008. I hadn’t seen him or his wife since, and to be honest, based on the diagnosis he had then, I had not ever expected he would live long enough for me to again fly him at all, let alone to do so 5 years later. The work that pilots for Wings of Mercy do on a volunteer basis is the direct result of one man who had a vision years ago and started getting pilots to volunteer their time and aircraft to fly patients without the means to transport themselves to critical and sometimes life saving medical treatment. Greg followed my example with a story of the pilots who fly for Pilots N Paws, pilots who fly animals in need of good homes around the country, taking pressure off shelters and helping save otherwise potentially doomed animals. These are but two small examples of aviation being used in inspiring ways on a regular basis in a way an average pilot could become involved. It is time we started celebrating the everyday inspiring aviators that we know to help others become inspired themselves.
Magazine articles about the new cool airplane, how fun it is to fly, how to use a new whiz bang GPS, or the cool new pilot watch you can buy have a place, but people are what make aviation inspiring. When we think back to the first generation of aviation heroes, we think of people, not their specific planes. It is the people that make the story. The planes are their tools.
In many respects we have gotten away from telling the story of the people. It isn’t about ego, it is about helping spread the passion. We need to be able to identify with others doing what we love. And we need to be able to identify with people who are contemporary with us. If we don’t have contemporary inspirational leaders, it can detach us from the experience. Having contemporary inspiration can give us a perspective that allows us to feel like we can be a part of something, like we too can accomplish something, and we too belong as part of a community. Sitting around the airport extolling the virtues of WWII ace status of our great grandpa doesn’t make us feel like it is something we can go do the same thing today. It’s history.
I challenge us to find the stories of people using aviation in inspiring ways, doing things that make aviation cool to be involved with, and making a difference. I know they are out there. Help us find them and tell us their stories.
These stories are what may inspire the next generation to become involved or those pilots who have fallen into inactivity to again be inspired to be an active part of our aviation community!