When I was a kid in grade school, I had this friend named Jonathan Meyer. His dad was a minister and had a collection of Revolutionary War–era muskets, flintlocks and a blunderbuss. That name alone was enough to get us kids laughing. One day, the reverend came to our school and gave our class the ultimate show-and-tell: He loaded one of his muskets with black powder, aimed it high at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. It went click and then, BOOOOOOOM!!! The classroom shook and got smoky. We kids thought it was so cool. Jonathan was one of my best friends growing up, and like me, had a thing for airplanes. One fall afternoon, I rode my knobby-tired chopper to his house a few blocks away with a copy of my favorite aviation magazine tucked into my knapsack. Our plan for the couple hours we had that afternoon between finishing our math homework (ugh) and dinner, was to go fly.
Back in the day, about the time we were all gee-whizzing about Pong and Atari, Jonathan and I would tear from the magazine this multipage centerfold that was, looking back, probably an ad for an avionics company, since it was a shot of an instrument panel for, say, a complex Cessna or Piper. To us, it was airplane porn, and boy, were we turned on by it. With a few tacks, we’d affix the centerfold to a board, take our positions, switching off as pilot and copilot, and firewall the imaginary throttle, taking off to anywhere we wanted to go. We flew these little Cessnas and Pipers all over the world, soaring among the clouds, flying in formation with airplanes from WWI and WWII and maybe even a flying saucer or three, but we were always back in time for dinner.
I can only imagine now what our young, 1970s’ minds would have thought if we had gotten hold of an advanced copy (a very advanced copy) of Microsoft Flight Sim or something like it. I’m sure it would have been amazing and fun, but at the same time, I don’t think Jonathan and I would have been able to fly to places as exotic and have as much fun as we did. To us, the flying of the plane always took a backseat to the wacky adventures we found ourselves in, mostly because we had pretty much no idea what we were looking at on that centerfold. But that didn’t matter; all we needed was our imaginations, and they took us farther than any modern computer-based flight sim could have.
I still don’t play with flight-sim games, but a while back, I had a helluva time at SimCom in its TBM 850 flight-training device. And for that week, while I was working on getting my TBM 850 checkout, I suspended my reality every afternoon and flew that TBM to, well, wherever my instructor Jerry Chipman told me. Granted, flying the ILS to Orlando International isn’t swashbuckling in the South Pacific with Jonathan in our little Cessna, but it still felt pretty good to this kid at heart to fly with his imagination once again—only it did feel more real this time.
Around the same time Jonathan and I were flying a little Piper PA-it-doesn’t-matter all the way to 1941 or to Hawaii, unrefueled of course, we took our first ride in a real airplane. It was a Mooney Ranger, and we launched from a now-defunct little airport that locals called “Speeds,” which was in the shadow of LaGuardia in New York City. I still remember that flight to this day. After all, they say you never forget your first.
All this got me thinking. Why, when flying and airplanes are so cool and inspiring for kids, is aviation not more popular? I read about a survey taken a few years ago that showed that more than 50% of men have always wanted to fly a plane. Where are they then? Where’s the aviation disconnect between the innocence of youth and the realities of adulthood? On page 46, Marc Lee takes a look at why general aviation is losing the popularity contest. I’m sure there are a lot of kids out there who are just like I was. What do you think we can do to bring them into the fold? Let us know here.