Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Long View

We’re as old or young, as declining or thriving, as we wish to be

Everyone I talked with at Sun 'n Fun this year kicked this attendance topic around. Like those chattering, fearful hominids facing the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we like to fret about things like sequestration, chatter over what current events portend and agonize over how to drag young people away from virtual reality flight to real flight instead, and thus seed all our flying futures.

In my wandering footfall this year across grassy fields, asphalt taxiways, booth aisles and the lumbar-challenging cement exhibit building floors I, as always, had the chance to visit with old friends, industry insiders and fellow journalists.

We're a richly diverse, colorful, intelligent, devoted, innovative, hardworking, affable potpourri of men and women, no matter what sector we haunt. We're of one mind and one heart about just one thing: love for the sheer force of nature that is human flight.

Everyone wants the economic recovery to be faster and stronger. We blame this political party or that representative or leader. Through it all, we keep flying. Some of us in the LSA sector have had record sales in the last year. Others continue to whiff at the plate, though their products often are superb. Who knows exactly why?

Everybody agrees about what we're seeing—sluggish GA sales and flight training—but we fail to find consensus around what's causing it or what to do about it. We blame four years of besieged economies or faulty regs or insufficient training. We point our finger at the long decline in civilian aviation. Some doomsayer journalists and industry heads among us read the tea leaves and conclude that light sport, or all of GA, is dying. Maybe so; probably not. In flux? Certainly. But on life support? Nah.

One visit to Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh, no matter what unrealistic expectations we might set ourselves up to fall short of, should prove to us that flying, in whatever form it might take in the future, will only die when we lay down our dreams.

One hundred ten years ago, two bicycle builders who wanted to join the soaring birds changed the human experience forever. Soon after, a Frenchman sputtered across the English Channel, a bicycle racer foot-powered a gossamer ghost across the same Channel decades later, a hang-glider pilot hovered for 24 hours above a Hawaiian ridge and a paraplegic woman light-sport pilot set a coast-to-coast speed record flying a specially modified LSA.

If those few expressions of dauntless drive and spirit don't tell us all we need to know about the enduring nature of our commitment to flight, nothing will.


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