April 4, 2014
By Thomas B Haines
Messy, this learning to fly business. I was 15 years old and completely lost and overwhelmed by ground school. The ground instructor might as well been speaking Latin to this kid from rural western Pennsylvania, the notion of VORs, NDBs, wind triangles, magnetic variation, and E6Bs—and I don’t mean the electronic kind—was that foreign. I had been in an airplane twice at that point, for a total of maybe 30 minutes. My father sitting next to me in ground school was there not to learn to fly, but because he had to drive me to class anyhow, so why not take the class? He was absorbing the information a lot better than I was, as would be particularly evident weeks later when he would pass the written on the first try and I would not.
I started flying the next summer as I turned 16, soloed a few weeks later, and continued plowing through the private pilot curriculum as finances and social life allowed. Flipping burgers at McDonalds and much moral and financial support from my parents helped. With only one day left before my written exam expired, I passed the private pilot checkride on a gray, overcast April 29, 1979. I went home and filled out the application to join the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. You won’t be surprised to find out they had been hounding me by direct mail for months. I don’t recall the dues in those days, but I know it was multiple shifts at McDonalds, where minimum wage was $2.90 an hour.
It was not a completely altruistic act. The premium to join was an aluminum kneeboard. I was convinced I needed that in the cockpit of the Cessna 152 I was flying—and certainly in the big Cessna 172 I was getting checked out in so I could take family and friends for rides.
Through college and attempting to get a career going, flying took a backseat, with me barely staying current. Like many, I didn’t renew my AOPA membership during those years until aviation came strongly back into my life—when I started working here in 1988 as an associate editor. Throughout those years, though, I was comforted to know that a large national organization had my back when it came to protecting access to airspace and airports, keeping onerous regulations in check, educating pilots about safety, and encouraging the esprit de corps among pilots that makes aviation unique and inviting.
I started working here in time be involved in the planning for the special issue of AOPA Pilot for the organization’s fiftieth anniversary. The October 1989 issue was a barnburner at more than 200 pages. This May 2014 seventy-fifth anniversary issue syncs with the organization’s founding in May 1939 at Wings Field outside of Philadelphia.
As you’ll read in the following pages, the organization’s goals have not changed in the intervening 75 years—protecting the rights and freedoms of general aviation pilots, encouraging safe flying, and reminding pilots of the fun of flying. Twenty-six years after I walked in the door as an employee, I continue to be proud of the work we do both here in our Media group, which has expanded from just one magazine to a dozen channels for sharing content, and throughout the organization. I’m as impressed today with the wealth of knowledge and the subject matter experts throughout these halls as I was on day one. As an AOPA member, active pilot, and aircraft owner, I’m fortunate to have folks like them looking out for me every day.
We don’t win every effort and we certainly don’t take a stand on every issue that syncs with the desires and expectations of every member. But know that every decision is made with the goal of protecting and fostering the advancement of general aviation. Challenges ahead? You bet. But that’s always been the case and for 75 years this institution has taken the lead. The result is a freedom to fly in this country that is greater than anywhere else on the planet. We’re ready for the next 75 years. Bring it on.
Editor in Chief Tom Haines started flying at age 16 and began writing and working for AOPA Pilot at age 26.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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