Ace (above) relishing a “Look Ma, No Hands!”
moment as he leaves on a local photo shoot,
and leaning against the best-looking airplane
in his hangar–mine.
with a healthy dose of adventure, fun, and a
bit of irreverent mischief, to boot.
So when one of the pilots said, “You
know, if you want to keep coming out here,
we’ll take you along with us when we go flying anywhere,” it was an easy decision. Six
months later, having never considered being
a pilot before, I was trading work on those
airplanes for flying lessons. And those lessons didn’t come from a 22-year-old with a
brand-new instructor’s certificate, either. I
learned to fly from a guy who’d successfully
ferried a 1935 de Havilland Dragonfly across
the North Atlantic—not only solo, but with
only a compass, a watch, and a map for
Why do I mention all of this? Because I
think it’s easy, sometimes, to dismiss what
all those characters contribute…not just to
the pilots around them, but to the aviation
industry in general.
I have a friend who argues that the kind
of pilot we need to focus on, in order to
maintain a healthy aviation industry, is
someone who buys a new airplane, and new
equipment, and uses the system extensively
and frequently. I also have friends who say
that if we want to bring more new pilots into
the system, we need to upgrade the professionalism of flight schools—because the kind
of “new airplane” pilot mentioned above is
not going to respond well to a school lacking
shiny facilities or shiny new airplanes.
There’s a certain amount of truth in that,
of course. Not every potential pilot would
want to hang out at a place like Ace’s. I know
a number of very wonderful pilots who own
brand-new, or pristine-restorations-to-almost-new airplanes, and who like keeping
them in very shiny, professional FBO hangars. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Indeed, if we want aviation to stay
healthy, we need to attract all the different
types we can get. We need people who want
to buy a new airplane, hire an instructor to
teach them to fly it, buy all the new gadgets
for it, and travel places with it often, so original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have
enough business to stay in business, and airports and ATC facilities have enough traffic
to justify keeping them open.