Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Freedom to Fly

Aviation is the greatest symbol of freedom we have. If you travel the world, you can tell how free a country is by how many small planes you see in the sky. – Rich Davidson.

These words spoken to me the other day – made me think.

I was lucky enough to travel to Cuba in 1999 on Educational Tour (with permission from the State Department). Sitting on the beach (very educational), two things struck me. No boats in view and no airplanes in the sky.

The last time there were no airplanes in the air over the USA was 9/11/01 and the few days afterwards when we were still grounded. Freedom was placed on hold.

Since that day, our Flying Freedoms have continued to diminish. Look back at what happened to Meigs Field in 2003. Look at what is happening at Santa Monica. Look at every small airport on the map – our Freedoms are being challenged. 

What do we do to save Aviation – General Aviation – those small planes that are an instrument and a sign of freedom around the world? How do we make it great again?

As many of you know, I am a student of early aviation. Back in the days, when barnstorming was a thing; everyday people were building airplanes and learning to fly; when the spirit of the sky drew us towards innovation.

Young Eagles – giving free rides to kids to get them involved in aviation. Great start – but of all the kids touched by that program, only a small portion became pilots. I know, from my local airport – of only 6 kids max, who we flew at one time or another, that have transitioned to actually earning their ticket.

Some say fences around the airports have hurt kids getting involved. I doubt this also. Kids used to “hang on the fence” to watch airplanes. And then they would wash airplanes for flying time. Remember that? But, that was before Flight Simulator. Previous generations didn’t have the internet, cell phones, tablets, gaming devices – they went to the airport instead. Parents sent them outside.

Another thing you rarely see is a young kid working really hard for what s/he wants. Want to become a pilot? It is a lot of hard work. Oh, maybe you’re not up for the challenge? Then, maybe you should sit this one out. My first Aerobatic Instructor used to say – “Other Sports Beckon” when someone didn’t have the mental toughness or the skills to fly. We’ve become soft. We believe in quick wins and not really working that hard anymore. Do you think the great pilots in the world were “naturals”? No, they worked, incredibly hard, to earn that skill.

Our mentality must change. Imagine an Aviation Version of the old Chevrolet Commercial – Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and a Private Pilot Certification.  It would be your License to Learn as well as your Freedom Authorization – inherently American.

We need to stop looking at pilots as spoiled rich folks and instead see them as Adventurers. People who, in many cases, gave everything they had for a chance to fly. Most of us save money in other areas of our life for avgas, maintenance fees and hangar rent.  We quit other sports and activities – so we can spend all our free time with like-minded people who long to touch the clouds. We do this because; we think that is what life is all about – Freedom, Flying.

We need a message of excitement and not despair. We need to focus on the pleasure of flying and not the doubt and hopelessness. We must believe what we preach – aviation is a freedom worth fighting for.

Want to make a difference?  
Go fly!  

Photos used with prior permission from Bruce Croft of and from the Friends of Meigs Field. 

Impressions of a Pilot

Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within.
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of the day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.
Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me no pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again.
For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know,
I was born to fly.

by Gary Claude Stoker