Whenever someone undertakes the relatively difficult chore of learning to fly, he can count on his teachers to explain all about slow flight, stalls, different landing and takeoff techniques and the like. But I think there might be a little something missing. To point out this missing ingredient, let me tell you a little story that has had a big impact on my own teaching.
Years ago, I had a sailplane ride business. I’d discovered a very talented young man and had installed him as our principle tow pilot. This guy was great. Rarely have I had an opportunity to fly with someone as talented. One day I pointed out to him how well I thought he flew. I concluded with the statement, “Yer gonna be the next Bob Hoover!” The young man gave me a blank look and asked, “Who’s Bob Hoover?”
I was flabbergasted. I think I may have grabbed him by the scruff of the neck (figuratively, if not literally) and dragged him into the Sunriver Soaring office. I fired up the office computer, pulled up a browser and typed in “Bob Hoover Iced Tea”. Then I sat the lad down in front of the screen and hit “play” on the resultant YouTube video. The young pilot’s eyes widened as he watched ol’ Bob perform a slow roll in the Shrike Commander while pouring a glass of iced tea… backhanded.
That incident has remained in my little brain as symbolic of the lack of knowledge about aviation history which plagues our younger flyers. I think that the biggest gap is in the area of aviation literature. If you ask most of these young, talented fliers if they’ve ever heard of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Neville Shute, Earnest Gann or Richard Bach, they will probably give you a look similar to the blank look I received.
There is nothing which enriches our chosen activity like a good steepening in its rich history and literature. There’s a reason that I’ve given away countless copies of Bach’s “Gift of Wings”. Someone entering the ranks of aviators needs to learn about flying… and they need the stimulation that only knowledge of aviators and aviation literature can supply. Similarly, they benefit from simply hanging out at the airport and listening to a few flying stories or meeting members of the Geezer Patrol.
There are so many ways in which someone can become steeped in Aviation Culture that they are almost too many to name. But I’ll point out just a few. First of all, literature. No one reads anymore. They are missing an incredible experience. Every airman’s library should contain several volumes of stimulating flying stories. What about movies? The number of movies that contain great examples of flying culture is incredible. They contain pictures like “The Memphis Belle” (both the documentary and the feature), “The Great Waldo Pepper” and “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo”, “A Guy Named Joe” and its re-make, “Always”, just to name a tiny few. I guess I would be remiss not to mention “Dawn Flight”, which is available on the Tailwheelers Journal website!
Aviation hasn’t been around that long. Consider that the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903. There were people who were alive for both that historic flight AND Neil Armstrong’s historic hop onto the surface of the moon!
It just seems to me that a rudimentary knowledge of the history and culture of aviation is something that no aviator should be lacking. That knowledge richens our flying in ways that we cannot begin to express.