“Ah yes, those were the days. A simpler time, when things were just…better.”
When exactly were the glory days of aviation? Some might say it was the “Golden Age of Aviation” – the time between the two world wars. It was a time of innovation, adventurous pilots and forging new horizons. Others might think back to the 1950’s and 60’s when the jet age took off. Air travel had a glamorous panache to it. Flying, simply put, was an experience. Scenes from “Catch Me If You Can” come to mind. For general aviation pilots, the days of old were filled with stick and rudder flying, rotary engines, barnstorming and relatively empty skies. So what about today? For many, the commercial flying experience is a headache. Increased security, lines and delays obscure the real joy of flight. So are the glory days of aviation gone, or could it be that we are in a new golden age now? Let’s look at a few perspectives.
The Glory Days: Then To Now
I’ve always dreamed of living in a time where I could be a Super Constellation Pilot for Eastern Airlines back in the “Great Silver Fleet” days. I can picture the people boarding the plane dressed to the nines to fly. There is a buzz of excitement from both passengers and crew alike. As glorious as that scene sounds, I would imagine that if you took that pilot and introduced him to aviation today, he would envy how good we have it. Since that time in the 1950’s, accident rates have steadily declined. For the airlines, very few accidents have been repeated because the takeaways from the investigation often lead to new procedures and built-in redundancies. Advances in technology also plays a big role, as does the general increase in understanding as aviation has matured. We have autopilots that will take us all the way to the runway in zero visibility, parachutes for the entire airplane, incredibly reliable engines, moving map GPS screens that superimpose our aircraft on the display and handle trip calculations for us, surreal pictorial weather data, and the ADS-B system that is letting our airplane tell other airplanes where they are.
Your Personal Glory Days
When I was training to be a private pilot in the early 2000’s, I constantly looked ahead to a time when I could fly myself, friends and family around. Now looking back, those days seem like my glory days. “Sit back and I’ll tell you some old stories…” There is a special attachment to the airplane you learned to fly in. It’s like your first car. You might want to bronze it, or maybe tattoo the tail number on your arm. It doesn’t matter how old, beat up, or technologically behind the times that airplane was, it will hold a special place in your heart as an amazing, one of a kind machine. But it goes beyond just the machine. I wonder if that same kind of nostalgia gives me such a fondness for the old Super Constellations and how I perceive that era to have been. Beyond the machine, though, are the experiences. The discoveries and revelations that come with earning your wings make it a truly special time. It’s very much a “grass is greener on the other side” sort of concept. When you’re in it, you just want to grow into a pilot, but looking back can often make you want to go back. I constantly remind myself to just enjoy where I am, and you should, too. Whether you have one hour logged or one thousand hours logged, just eat it up and love every minute.
The Best Of What’s Around
New technology and developments are perhaps the biggest indicator of the times. Some older airplanes don’t even have radios, but we can now connect our Bluetooth devices to the new ones. Even as we progress and develop new solutions, there’s no need to blindly adopt anything just because it’s “new and improved.” Take an iPad for example. It’s a wonderful device with incredible data retrieval capabilities. Use that to enhance your flying, sure, but consider it’s limitations. It can run out of battery power, overheat, or simply fail. As a result, I fly with a paper backup. Beyond that, I’ve found that using an iPad as a notepad to write down an ATIS or clearance slows me down. As a result, I use a small paper scratch pad for such things. Even outside of flying, take my iPhone for example. It has the capability to manage my calendar, set reminders, and find an app for pretty much anything I need to stay organized. Even so, I carry around a little book that fits in my pocket to write down to-do lists and notes. Sure, I use my phone for my calendar and reminders for things like verifying the trash is on the curb on trash nights, but I still use a paper book to supplement my phone’s features. Why? Because it’s a system that works for me. It feels good to cross things off when I’m done. I have a tactile record to easily look back on. There are very fancy E6B apps that can “do the work for you,” but I still use a manual E6B for all of my calculations. I clip it right to my iPad case. The app is novel, but it’s slower for me in its practical use. I’m not at all against technology, but let’s use what we’ve learned since the old days of flying. Put the good advancements to use and leave the ones behind that don’t work as well, even if they are new and shiny.
The Grass Is Greener
I recently talked to a man who flew an EA6-B Prowler for the Navy in his younger years. He told me old war stories, like a cliche, but I was endlessly fascinated by his passion. There were stories of taking off from a carrier with minimal fuel to get off the ship, only to be fueled up in the air once airborne. There were tales of having to ditch a failing plane between two aircraft carriers to make sure he was found at sea. There were recounts of the decision to eject and the ramifications of both sides of that choice. It would make a great Netflix series, actually; a veteran pilot seated in a comfy chair by a fireplace telling tales of his journeys while dramatic reenactments of the events unfold on the screen. Record the season for me. The grass may seem greener in the past, but I’m quite sure that the future seemed brighter when those glory days were being lived. I don’t know when your glory days are, but there’s a good chance you might be in them right now.
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