DON’T BE SHY. Introduce yourself, and a new world of shared passion will open up.
Do you remember when life was slow enough that we used to sit around in front of the hangar, the sun making us feel like reptiles soaking up the warmth, before bundling ourselves into our respective flying machines to go test fate? Do you remember those conversations? As far as that goes, do you remember conversation? The real kind, where two people face one another and their lips move, making sounds that cause the other to laugh/frown/nod in a fashion that indicates understanding?
The reason the above question is worth pondering is because a good percentage of the world’s conversations are now electronic. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I suppose it’s a little of both. However, no matter what your views on it are, one thing is absolutely certain: Thanks (or no thanks) to the Internet, if someone wants to talk to you, they’ll find you. There’s no way to hide from Google, etc. Plus, as we start networking via the Net, we find our circle of friends growing like crazy. There are dozens of pilots whom I consider to be really close friends but haven’t laid eyes on, even once.
Because of the above, the Internet throws lots of interesting conversations our way, and one that crossed my screen lately was from a young man who was frustrated at trying to get into aviation. In fact, he bordered on being miffed and accused us of being a “Good Old Boys Club,” and entry into the inner circle was difficult. As I went back and forth with him, lots of obvious but heretofore seldom-discussed concepts crossed my mind.
As I told him, part of the reason we look like a Good Old Boys Club is that, to a man, we think we’re boys, but lots of us are sorta old—or at least working on getting that way. And at one time, we were good. Or at least we thought we were. Some still are. But, it isn’t a “club,” and we owe an apology to anyone who sees us that way. And believe me, none of us want to make joining our world even remotely difficult. Just the opposite: We welcome newbies.
It’s easy to see why the hardcore aviation types appear to be a “club” and difficult to access. A newbie has only to stand on the periphery of any conversation with any group of long-time pilots for about two minutes to feel intimidated. For one thing, long-time pilots speak a form of pidgin English that’s loaded with unfamiliar terms, abbreviations and what appears to be jargon, but it’s hard for the newbie to be sure.
“Oh, yeah, it was definitely IMC even though ATC was briefing it as VFR, and I knew I’d be busting an FAR, and maybe my butt by punching into it, so I called Center who gave me a special to climb on top, so everything was cool.”
“I was planning on a humpty but didn’t have enough numbers on the up-line so I hammered out instead, did a half-snap on the down-line and pushed out at the bottom, still clearing the bottom of the box.”
How is anyone from the outside going to join in on a conversation when it’s being conducted in “pilotese”? And in most cases, how are they going to work up the nerve to ask a question when they know for a fact that no matter how they phrase it, it’s going to betray their lack of experience? And right there is the crux of the problem.
Any person new to any experience, aviation or otherwise, is going to be a) short of confidence bred of their lack of experience and knowledge and b) afraid of looking like an idiot around those who are obviously much more versed in the skill in question. What they don’t stop to think about is that every single one of the individuals involved in the fast-moving, difficult-to-understand conversations started out as a newbie in exactly the same position they’re in now. At one time everyone, even Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong and Patty Wagstaff, started as beginners and could not talk the talk, much less walk the walk. The newbies’ fear of looking like what they are—newbies—is in their own mind. For the most part, the group they’d like to penetrate is eager to welcome new blood into the fold.
Okay, so that last sentence isn’t always true. Aviation, like any high-profile activity, does have those who, shall we say, place more value on their position than they probably should and tend to talk down to the inexperienced. Just so newbies know: Those who talk down to them generally talk down to the rest of us too, and we all think they’re jerks. So don’t feel bad. They’re the exception, not the rule.
People with a passion, including practically all pilots, are driven to share that passion. In fact, when pilots sense someone has an interest, it brings out the zealot in us and we try to do our best to bring that person into the fold. And it has nothing to do with the well-
publicized plight of aviation’s poor health. We aren’t doing it for the good of aviation; we’re reaching out to someone for reasons that even we can’t clearly explain. It’s as if we remember when we were in that position and were standing at the edges of a wonderfully inviting pool, but were afraid to stick our toes in. We want everyone who has a feeling for the subject to jump in and splash around with the rest of us.
We in the so-called “Good Old Boys Club” can tell our story about how we got into aviation and, almost without exception, we’ll mention people who were pivotal in us becoming pilots. In my case, it was Fred Deeds, ex-Mustang pilot in the 354th Fighter Group, the pioneer Mustang group in 1943. He was my science teacher and the first to talk airplanes with me. Because we remember people like that, we strive to emulate them and give others the help that was given us.
So, the next time you’re hanging back at the edges of the crowd, step forward and say, “Hey, I’m new to this and was wondering….” In a heartbeat, you’ll be a lifetime member of the group.