Going Direct: Is Changing Everything Enough?

Like everyone who has been around general aviation for a while, I’m a little skeptical when I hear news of positive regulatory change in the offing. Perhaps I should be a little optimistic from time to time, though. Even if we do face challenges in GA, and we do, I need to remind myself that good things can and do happen to good planes and good pilots. Over the past dozen years or so, we’ve seen the birth of the Light Sport Aircraft category, the Sport Pilot certificate and the simplified medical certification that came along with it.

More recently, we’ve witnessed the beginnings of actual new regs that will before too long usher in a new set of rules governing light GA certification that are far more sensible than the previous model, which regulated the Cessna Citation X+ Skyhawk with the same 1,000-foot-high stack of regs.

Going Direct: Is Changing Everything Enough?

We’re also seeing the probable adoption of Congressional legislation that will bring about a far more risk-appropriate, scientifically supportable and cost-effective approach to medical certification.

The big question is, will this be enough to turn the tide in GA from one of a contracting segment to a stable or, dare I say it, an expanding one? Is it enough?

A friend and fellow pilot asked the other day how we get back to the glory days of GA, when our fleets and pilot populations were many times larger than today.

I didn’t say what you might have thought I’d say. I didn’t say that the suggestion was a pipe dream. What I did say was that it was going to take a combination of technological advancements and regulatory reform that’s sweeping enough to fundamentally change the lay of the land (and the sky). At the same time, we’d need not only to maintain an equivalent level of safety, but greatly improve our safety record. Electrics, I feel, will be key. (Mark my words on that one.) We need a multipronged approach to growing aviation that takes all of these considerations into account.

One thing we don’t need to do quite so much is work hard at selling flying. Once the other building blocks are in place, the flying part will sell itself.


The story of the Piper J-3 Cub is one of the most fascinating in aviation history, and not just because the Lock Haven Yellow taildragger is an icon of what has come to mean freedom to fly on a number of levels. Cubs, and the low-altitude and low-tech kind of flying they and their kind represent, are all about escape. And in this age of connected living, there’s something really compelling about flitting around in an airplane with no electrical system that’s made from materials that were common around the turn of the century—no, not this century, I’m talking the 1900s.

It’s kind of like trucks. The latest Fords and Dodges and Chevys are great vehicles—reliable, roomy and tough—but when it comes to getting them fixed, we take them to the shop, which is fine, I guess. But there’s something really fulfilling about cracking open the hood on a 1960s vintage F100 Ford or C10 Chevy and seeing daylight. It changes the whole paradigm of “user” when we can pull apart and replace it without hooking up the computers—there is, indeed, nowhere to hook them up. In these good old trucks, what passes for high-tech is an automatic transmission or, if you’re really lucky or really soft, air conditioning.

The Cub is the same thing, and let me say that there are no shortage of Cub-like planes that fit the bill—Champs and Stinsons and Cessna 140s and homebuilts, from Kitfox to Quicksilver. A big part of the fun is in the lack of technology. Sometimes that technology shortfall, as in the Lockwood Air Cam, one of my favorite airplanes of all time, means the lack of an enclosed cabin. (Have I mentioned Harleys yet?)

How do we get back to the glory days of GA, when our fleets and pilot populations were many times larger than today?

The story of the Cub is well known, but the more you dig, the more you learn that giving birth to personal aviation back in old PA, which is what those folks did circa 1930, was a wild ride that surely would have made great reality TV. (To learn 50 obscure details about the birth of the prototypical American taildragger, check out our “Plane Facts: Cubs” piece on page 10.)

The least understood part of the story is that from the time the J-3 was born, which dates back around eight years from its official launch in 1937, there was pressure to improve the type. And Piper, like any smart company, bowed to the might of the market by introducing new models that fixed the “shortcomings” of the Cub. They enclosed the cockpit, built a side-by-side version (the J-4), added an electrical system, boosted the power, shortened the wings to make it faster and eventually abandoned the tube-and-rag taildragger approach altogether. The nosedragger, all-metal Cherokee line was the ultimate anti-Cub, and it came about years after Piper’s competitor Cessna had already turned its back on the old-world model of the personal airplane with the introduction of its all-metal nosewheel airplanes with side-by-side and even four-seat configurations.

The irony is that the classic Cub, that airplane that didn’t give pilots everything they were asking for, left an indelible imprint on our collective aviation imagination. The plane that was too small, too slow, too old-fashioned, too breezy and maybe even too yellow became the near-universal icon for pure flying. The Cub remains, in many ways, the perfect time traveler, a barn-built chariot to lift us just above the trees in flight, doing it in a way that makes joy the unavoidable consequence of the experience.

It makes my heart glad that there are still folks out there building, buying and flying such airplanes.


The EAA Pilot Proficiency Center is returning to AirVenture this year, and Plane & Pilot is proud to announce our support of the effort, which is a real no-brainer. The week-long event will take center stage at the EAA crossroads just west of the big showcase square, a prime placement that underscores Jack Pelton and EAA’s commitment to the project and the subject.

This year, the Center will feature more sims, more square footage, more instructors and a broader mission than ever before, all as part of a master plan to help more pilots than ever before make more progress on staying on top of their flying proficiency.

As many of you know, I’ve personally been a proud supporter of the effort since Hartzell President Joe Brown announced the first installation four years ago. At the time, it wasn’t the Proficiency Center, in name, and there wasn’t a sim to be found anywhere. That first Center was the result of Brown’s growing passion for the work of the IMC Club, now a part of EAA, a start-up organization at the time that was essentially a regular social gathering of pilots in locations around the world who met and talked about the complexities and joys of flying by gauges.

Like Brown, I had taken a keen interest in the work of the group, founded by CFII Radek Wyrzykowski. It gave pilots a forum to talk about a subject that was more complex than they had tools to deal with, and the support of the group reminded them that, one, there’s a lot to the pursuit of IFR proficiency and, two, you can’t learn unless you ask questions. I worked at the as-yet-unnamed Center, parked anonymously by the flight line, participating in discussions and answering questions when I could. At every session, the crowd was peppered with IFR aficionados and experts, so there were great answers galore.

The success of the effort was clear, and over the next few years, the Center picked up steam, first becoming the IFR Proficiency Center and then, last year, the Pilot Proficiency Center, sponsored officially by EAA. By year two, Brown had forged a partnership with the folks at Redbird Flight (then known as Redbird Flight Simulations). The missions synced so spectacularly well, it was one of those matches made…well, you know the expression. Redbird’s sims not only were great learning tools, but they had the huge advantage of letting the sim pilot fly really complicated scenarios, so the IFR flight essentially would be a guided lesson of discovery. That the discovery process often involved rapidly changing weather or changes in arrival should surprise no one. Mindstar Aviation has been a key player in numerous ways, too, most noteworthy of them being the creation of a collection of cool VFR challenges, which the Proficiency Center refers to as Stick and Rudder Scenarios. They were a big hit with attendees last summer.

Along the way, other partners were recruited/volunteered/worked their way in. Jeppesen was a prime player from year one, enlisting its experts to spread the word with its standing-room only Tech Talks and weather chats, and the talented instructors from CFI organizations NAFI and SAFE (presented in alphabetical order) volunteer and spend countless hours helping pilots get the lay of the LAN. There have been live controllers courtesy of PilotEdge and huge ongoing financial support from Jeppesen, EAA, Hartzell and Redbird (without any of whom none of this could happen).

And this year our friends at AOPA are getting into the game, providing early a.m. activities, including speakers and proficiency presentations (I’m lobbying for donuts, too) for those early-bird pilots who like to get the fun started just as the sun is coming up. Um, that would be about all of us, right?

See you at the show!

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