A builder whom I have a lot of respect for wrote me a private email pointing out that the two paragraphs I included in this story: Grace’s Dad and Ted Williams about shallow experiences were not really productive, and it would have been better to use the time and space to speak of how we should refine the better experience, and just contrasting it with the shallower one isn’t instructive and is bound to offend someone.
Good point. I wasn’t very articulate about the point I was really trying to get at. Here is a second pass at it.
Above, a Funk . More than 400 Funks were made, a great plane. Yet few people know what one is because industry has no financial interest to be gained by teaching that sort of thing. To get the most out of aviation, you need to look beyond what is on the ‘menu.’ Our industry is driven by selling things and Americans are very good at buying things, but that exchange is not synonymous with advancing your personal goal of becoming an aviator.
A) Industries goals are not your goals: Just like most other recreational industries, the goal of the people in experimental aircraft businesses is to make money. This would be fine if your goal in aviation were to simply buy things, but I am going to make the assumption that your goal is to be a good pilot, a skilled builder and exercise these with good judgment. While you will need some hardware to reach your goals, It will not be the collection of stuff industry will say you must have. When the manufactures party line is the same as the magazine people, your local FBO and their CFI, people get steered into spending a lot of money while no one is incentivized to even speak about what the real goals the new aviator had. This is consumerism, not becoming an aviator. Part of the reason why it works so smoothly is that Americans have been very effectively conditioned to think that spending money= achieving your goals.
I have been to Oshkosh for the whole week for 19 of the last 20 years. There is a staggering amount of things there. But stop and look with different eyes: How much of this is just stuff for sale, and how little of it is actually directly serving your goal of becoming a better builder or a skilled pilot? Almost none of the space is devoted to learning about flying. Learning enriches your life, but it isn’t a product business find profitable.
This even goes on at flight training centers. I recently spoke to a pilot who had a landing mishap shortly after graduating from a packaged training and check out course. He felt he had done the right thing in training in the same plane he built. The people who ran the course said he was “very good” , and signed him off. I looked into it quietly and found that every one of their pilots is told they are very good, and they all ‘finish’ the course on in the exact same amount of hours. On the surface, they are running an educational program. In reality, they are just selling a ‘one size fits all’ package that costs a set amount, and doesn’t serve the individuals goals, and provides a dangerously false sense of security.
B) Some good choices have no vocal advocates: Some of the hardware that is long proven to serve advancing aviators never gets promoted nor discussed, because no one makes money if you elect to use one of these. I wrote this story Greatest Book on Flying Ever Written, (Is your life worth $16?) about a book that every single pilot should have, yet you never heard of it because the author is dead, he isn’t going to rent commercial space at Oshkosh, nor buy a one page add in a magazine, the $16 is just money your FBO will not get, and so on, so no one is going to bring up the book as something you need to read.
Likewise, my story: Inexpensive Panel……..part one. high lights that 1,000,000 people learned to fly very well on very basic gauges. Lindbergh and Doolittle did ok flying this stuff, yet today we are immersed in “Glass Cockpit” world, and it is every where you turn, and new people are lead to believe that it is a requirement. You hear about glass cockpits because it is an enormous money generator in our industry, and it pays manufacturers, dealers, it buys add space, and rents dozens of booths at Oshkosh. Makes money for them, but does it serve your personal goals? Notice that steam gauges work, but no one talks about them simply because there is no money in it.
Let me give you another one: If we added up all the Taylorcraft BC-12s, all the Luscombe 8s, Aeronca Chiefs and Champs and the Cessna 120s and 140s available for $22K or less in the USA you would have about 10,000 planes. Throw in C-150s and you are talking about 20,000 planes. (The first 4 total about 7,500 planes and are LSA legal.) These are great planes that trained legions of outstanding pilots. These planes are far more durable than typical 912 powered imported S-LSAs. They also were certified to much higher standards of design and aerodynamic behavior. Yet, they are rarely brought up as a good beginning point for new aviators simply because there is no commercial machine promoting them. If a magazine guy wants to write about a new LSA, the factory will pick up all the costs including his commercial airline ticket, hotel and rental car. He will be treated like a king, especially if he is known to have never said a bad word about a new plane, even if it was a piece of shit. In contrast, anyone who wants to write a story about a Luscombe will have to rent it himself, an pay all the expenses. Then he will have to get it past his editor, who will point out that if the space is devoted to a new S-LSA that company will buy a full page ad. This goes on until the only products new aviators read about, see and are exposed to are the ones that make other people money, even if there are far better ones to serve his personal goals.
You have to be alert to consumerism at work in aviation. In other forms of recreation like bowling and boating, it is there just the same., but the consequences are different in flying. If you buy an expensive ball or shoes, but never learn how to pick up a 7-10 split, it will not hurt you. If you buy a 250HP ski boat but don’t know ‘red, right, return’, Seatow will just pull you off the sandbar, but you will not be harmed. However, if your entire exposure to aviation is from the consumer driven end of it, you will be exposed to more risk than you understand. There are a good number of business that do care about selling good products in a responsible way, and making sure people understand how to use them. They are the exception, not the rule.
You have to be alert to your own consumerism. There is a part of people that wants to get things done, and be told they are doing great. In our world, there is a lot of pressure to pack too much in, not allow enough time, just get the basics down, move on. This works almost everywhere in modern life, but it doesn’t work well in aviation, no matter who tells you otherwise.
At CC#24 I had a serious conference with a builder who I thought was focused on getting his motor done, even at the expense of really making sure he understood what he was doing. He felt otherwise. To open his eyes a bit, I asked if he felt that he was a good pilot and had learned that skill thoroughly. Although he said yes, it was easy for me to point out that he did not know what condition produces the minimum radius turn in any plane (Va, full power, bank to max. Gs.) and that planes have the same glide ratio at gross as they do lightly loaded. I suggested that having a private pilots rating but not knowing important aspects of basic flight was a indicator of getting too focused on get done over mastering the skill at hand. To his great credit, he understood. I have had a similar talk with many other people but very few of them changed their perspective one bit.
Each of us are responsible for changing gears mentally when we leave our every day lives and engage in aviation. Being a home builder is a tremendous advantage for a guy new to aviation simply because it teaches you to slow down and do it right. In front of you is physical evidence that either says you mastered the skill or didn’t. Later, when you are working on flying, the physical evidence is not as easy to see, and it is harder for new people to understand that they are well below mastery. Also, home builts don’t fly until 100% or the pieces are in place. Conversely, I have seen many people in a rush get a pilots license when they have mastered less than 50% of the fundamentals they needed to know. If they suspected they were ill equipped, they didn’t say so because they were too focused on passing the test and having the license, a poor substitute for understanding and mastering the skill.
Below is a collection of stories related to this topic. You can read any of them by clicking on the title.