By Howard Deevers
Our introduction to aviation can come from many different sources. Some of us grew up in aviation families, where a parent, grandparent, or other relative was already involved in aviation in some manner as a private pilot, airline pilot, mechanic, or even military-related flying. Others gain an interest in aviation by simply looking at airplanes, building models, reading adventure stories, or other exposures.
Our first flight in an airplane is probably a memorable event, no matter when or where you had that flight. I can still remember my first flight in an airplane: it was a J3 Piper Cub, with no radios, no electrical system, had to be hand propped to start it, and it was on a grass field in Eastern Iowa about 1948. My uncle was a veteran of WWII and was a tail gunner on a B-17. He probably got his Private Pilot license in Tucson, AZ, right after the war ended. He had borrowed the Cub from a friend in St. Louis, MO, and followed the Mississippi River north to Davenport, Iowa, and landed on a grass airport that no longer exists today. Why do I remember that flight? Because I was both afraid and filled with joy. Afraid of the unknown but filled with joy of being in the air looking down. The flight could not have been very long, probably less than 30 minutes.
I did not fly again until I was a senior in High School, and this time on a United Airlines flight from Des Moines, Iowa, to Moline, Illinois. My next flight was again a few years later, with a friend in his Cessna 120, also with no radios, but it did have a starter. It was a flight from Davenport to Cedar Rapids and back. Knowing how long it would have taken me to drive that, and how quickly we made it in an airplane, hooked my interest in aviation even more.
Through WWII, railroad travel was the top public transportation. After WWII, aviation quickly gained the interest of the public as airplanes became more useful, more comfortable, and traveled to more places. Aviation had growing pains during the 50's and into the 60's, until we finally had the safe, fast travel system that we have today.
When I fly General Aviation across the country, I find joy in that. I can see the country (unless IFR of course). I talk to air traffic controllers and monitor other aircraft on the same frequencies. I find joy in doing the flight planning, getting weather information, and then actually doing the flight. I like to be able to see out of the plane.
When I fly on Commercial airlines, there is little joy, unless I am sitting by a window and can see out. I am always bewildered by those travelers that pull down the shades and never look out of the airplane. I do realize that at 38,000 feet you cannot see details on the ground, but you can still see the ground, unless you are above the clouds. Even then, looking down on the clouds is different than looking at them from ground level. To many travelers, aviation is only: “Get me there.” In the early days, the pilots would point out features on the ground as they passed over them, such as the Grand Canyon or the Mississippi River. I don't hear that anymore, and passengers show little interest in knowing about anything below them. They are missing the joy of aviation.
There is something mystical about aviation to those of us that have experienced the Joy of Aviation. Maybe we cannot expect all of those millions of travelers to feel the Joy of Aviation as we that get to sit in the front seat looking forward do. After all, the aviation community has invested a lot of time, effort, and resources to make air travel as safe as it is today, but we have invested very little to let that public traveler know that there IS a Joy in Aviation.
We only have to look at the long lines for security, and the somewhat convoluted boarding and deboarding of airplanes, to see that there is room for improvement. Not everyone can have a window seat. You don't have to be a pilot to experience the Joy of Aviation (flying). If we understand that only a short time ago in history, no humans could experience flight at all, then maybe the experience will have more meaning and joy.
One of my favorite aviation writers is Richard Bach. All of his writings have an aviation theme, and they are real stories of his adventures in many cases. Here is a short quote from his book BIPLANE:
...”in the billions of hours that men have been aloft, not one has left a mark in the sky. Into the smooth sky we pull a tiny wake of rippled air. When our airplane is gone, the sky smooths, carefully covering every sign of our passing, and becomes the quiet wilderness that it has always been.”
There it is, the Joy of Aviation, and I might add, the mystery of Aviation as well.
When we fly, we can experience the Joy of Aviation. As pilots we must also respect the mystery and physics of aviation, and through our actions bring joy to others that are not pilots.
We must do all that we can to keep aviation as safe as possible. For that reason, ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION offers free safety seminars all over the State. Check the website for locations and times in your area, and don't forget to “Bring your wingman!”