One of the tasks integral to being an outdoors person is fire-building. In my youth, I learned to carry matches, and even tinder material, if I was going to spend extended periods in the great out of doors. And yet, getting a fire started was often easy; I found that keeping it going could be the greater task.
Feeding a fire is an art; out on the trail, the lady I married is better at it than I, presumably because she has superior nurturing skills. Fires are living things, needing some support and care while young, and sound direction to keep them under control as they mature. That’s a bit like encouraging dalliances with passing interests
Introducing people to aviation, like striking a match, is the easy part. Keeping the flame going requires fuel for the fire, and maybe a little luck. Flying lessons aren’t fuel. A rigid, canned curriculum can even put a damper on the enthusiasm needed to sustain growth. Every so often, young pilots need a shot of encouragement, aside from the drudgery of academics. My old instructor knew this; now and then, he would load up three students in a four-seat plane and haul us 40 miles to a new-to-us airport, stretching our wings beyond the practice area. The memories made kept us going, when the flame tended to flicker.
Airshows, as gatherings of aviation enthusiasts, are fuel for the fire of sustained aviation. When we go to AirVenture, or an AOPA fly-in, or a type club get-together, we rub up against the incendiary chemistry of infatuation. We are reminded of why we bother with all the off-putting expense, effort and bureaucratic stupidity. Flight is unique in the gifts it brings, and every so often we look out at the vista from our cockpit and think, “this is worth it all.” Earthbound mortals don’t understand. Associating with like-minded folk is key to sustaining the fire.
Bringing excitement to other persons is a responsibility of those of us who’ve been flying for a while. We may be jaded, but down under the covering ashes smolders an ember that needs to be passed along. We can be the fire-giver, by allowing someone to ride in an empty seat, or handle the controls of our high-performance machine, or just walk up and look inside. As I’m wont to say – given my senior status – these beginning pilots are the ones who will pick us up at the retirement home someday and take us flying. If we want that experience, we need to bring along a new generation of pilots.
At Oshkosh this year, an expanded Job Fair is part of the event. I would imagine only a tiny percentage of AirVenture attendees are looking for work, but we are nearing a critical stage in sustaining the infrastructure of aviation. We badly need new pilots, mechanics and FBO managers to keep our industry going. Without a draft of oxygen to fire them up, the flames might die down.