Ask any aspiring pilot what their dream would be and ninety five out of one hundred will respond without pause that they want to be an airline pilot. Nothing wrong with that. As a young man, that was my dream as well.
But there is more to aviation. There is so much more we accomplish on the way up to that lofty goal. I recently addressed a group of general aviation pilots. Every age group was represented. The common thread was the love of aviation.
My first question was who had flown in for this particular conference. Many raised their hands. I selected a young man in the first row. I asked him when his flight arrived and he responded that he had arrived just hours earlier. I asked what airline he flew in on and he said American. Very good. I asked what type of aircraft and he again responded quickly that it was an Airbus. It was an A320. Excellent. Next question, what was the captain’s name? He looked at me with a perplexed look. He had no idea. Ok, I responded, what did he look like? Again, he looked perplexed. He responded that he never saw him. I thanked him for his answers.
Next I asked the aviators in the room to try to identify the person who had earned their pilots license more than forty years ago. Two gentlemen and an older woman raised their hands. Ok, how about fifty years ago. One gentleman remained with his hand held high. Do you mind if I ask you some questions? He responded affirmatively so I continued. What year did you learn to fly, I asked. He responded 1964. Do you recall your first flight instructor’s name? He didn’t even have to think about it. “That was Gene Henry”. “Can you tell me a little about Gene, I inquired”. “Oh sure”, came the response, “I’ll never forget old Gene”. “What a great guy”. “Used to sit in that old Cessna 140 and scream at me whenever I did anything wrong but then we would get back to the barn and he would sit down and heat up a can of soup and we would share it as he told me all the things I did wrong and the few things I did right”. “Can you tell me anything else about Gene”, I asked? “Well, I still remember that old worn leather jacket he wore”. “And those suspenders”. “Hell, I thought he was the world’s greatest pilot”.
My message to all those flight instructors rushing through their required fifteen hundred hours and dreaming of flying the heavy iron is, slow down and enjoy this moment! You are creating those memories for new aviators right now. You will be remembered and memorialized by your students. Remember that the groundwork you put in place today will be the basis for what these future aviators do in the future. As instructors, we have the ability to make an impression on future aviators that can last a lifetime. You might spend the next forty years on the flight deck of some big Boeing of Airbus, and I am taking nothing away from an airline pilot career but, in my opinion, the real contribution you make to aviation will be in the right seat of the Cessna or Cherokee, sharing your love of flight, and making an indelible impression on your students.