Heading east three thousand feet above the western central Ohio landscape. Looking down below at a collection of multicolored farm fields. I can begin to make out the giant oval track near Honda, almost home. This is the longest I have ever flown by myself. The anxiety filling my body is unmistakable. Soon, I make out the quarry and the two water towers that represent my home airport, Delaware.
Entering a left downwind, I begin my landing procedures, throttle out, begin adding flaps, wheels still below me. I make a left turn and check the runway at my 45, “looks clear” I think to myself, I’ve done this so many times now, this is the easiest part. I turn left again to line up on my final approach to the runway. Gently pulling back on the yoke as the runway numbers pass under me, a slight jolt mixed with the squeak of the wheels hitting the ground, keeping the pressure back, letting it roll out. Turning off the runway and pulling up to the hangar where my Dad is anxiously waiting for me. I pull out the red mixture knob and wait for the sputtering engine to end its rotation, turn the key and open the door, “I made it,” I say to myself, I completed my multipoint solo cross country.
Flying has always been on my mind, helped along by the fact that my father was working for an avionics company. When I was young he was still a technician and lower level engineer so a lot of his job was spent going on test flights and troubleshooting equipment. Because of that I was exposed to airplanes at a very early age. I remember my Dad building a little airplane for me to sit in. It was a cardboard box with the lid setup as wings, an instrument panel he had drawn, and a yoke fashioned out of copper pipe and wood. I would sit in there for hours pretending to fly, until one day I stuck my finger in the copper pipe and cut it.
After that I began messing around with flight simulators. I recall sitting in the basement playing Flight Simulator II and Solo Flight on the Commodore 64. The flight simulator series stayed with me through my early adulthood, it’s amazing to think how much that series has evolved from its humble beginnings.
There were two events in real life however that solidified my love of general aviation. Beginning with my first flight in a Cessna 172 from Port Columbus up to Port Clinton with my Dad and one of his co-workers. I sat in the back for the trip up and we ate at a restaurant before heading back, it was here that I would sit in the front and at 8 years old get to feel the controls in my hands for the first time. My eyes were wide with amazement as I turned the yoke and saw the attitude indicator move along with it. Just like in the game, except this time, I could actually feel the plane move with me. I would have a similar experience a few years later when my scout pack would attend a young eagles event at Bolton field. This time, the instructor let me take the controls for more than just a few basic turns. I was actually flying the plane. It was at this point I was hooked.
It wouldn’t be immediate but eventually these experiences would eventually lead me to finally getting my private pilot’s certificate in 2009. It was during this time that I would fully take in the experience of aviation for myself. There are things about flying for real that can’t be replicated in a simulator. It is something reserved only for those who know. The smell of oil that fills your nostrils as you first step into the cockpit, the click and whir of the gyros as they spring to life. One Hundred low lead fumes on your fingers as you sump the tanks. The feeling as you push the throttle forward, rolling down the runway, and lifting off the ground. It’s an experience that’s hard to fully encapsulate, and I feel that brands these days miss the mark when it comes to connecting that experience to consumers.
The problem is audience. With the cost of flying fairly expensive already, the majority of pilots tend to be in the upper echelon of income, as well as being from an older generation. Because of that, most flight ads tend to follow the old trend of print only. There is only so much you can do with that. It’s hard to fully grasp the emotion of a story when you are looking at a static image. In addition, most ads are tech centered and focus mostly on the nitty-gritty details of the product. It is useful in some situations, but in others more should be done to convey a broader message. Some companies are working more with digital, but still purely in the realm of banner ads. There needs to be a renaissance of sorts when it comes to communicating a story for flight. A way to bring the emotion of flight again, to make it seem more human and less like something reserved for only the select few.
There are two people I have seen on Youtube who are doing a great job telling aviation’s story. First is Josh aka MrAviation101. Josh’s videos are fun, well informed, and well made. Through his use of camerawork, editing, and audio/narration, you get the same feeling as if you were in the cockpit with him. A big part of me loves watching to see what he’s doing next because he goes on the adventures we all like to do as private pilots. I even sit there and hear familiar sounds and identify greatly with how I interact in the cockpit. Sometimes I chuckle at the technology he possesses compared to my usual setup (iPad kneeboard instead of an actual kneeboard and paper), but regardless, he gives a great account of general aviation and the adventure it truly is.
The other one is Jim Howard, aka Jim the Pilot, aka ifoundjim. Jim doesn’t have to do much to tell a great story, because he is always doing interesting things. He is a seaplane pilot/wood worker/skier and most of his videos focus on these things. Among my favorite though are his videos centered around the company he is chief pilot for, Northwest Seaplanes. I began watching a lot of his videos after I spent some time with my parents sailing the San Juan islands and his flying was a way to revisit that beautiful landscape. Typically he simply just documents his flights and many of the varied destinations he runs charters to, a lot of which are remote fishing and hunting lodges in British Columbia. It’s a great and simple way to tell his personal story, promote his brand, and his business. It certainly has me sold.
A lot of great human stories can be told around general aviation. The rancher who uses his piper cub to keep watch on his cattle. A bush pilot delivering medical supplies to a remote village hospital. These were always the stories that interested me. Maybe that’s why I’m always looking for the most run-down, beat up, remote airports in Ohio to fly into. Flying shouldn’t just be focusing on the “rich kids of instagram” taking the gulfstream for a european weekend. There are many other compelling stories that will identify with the mere mortals around us and stoke just a few fires in the aviation world.