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Professionally Speaking: My Friend Johnny

Remember To Share The Wonder Of The Air

My friend Johnny is by anybody's definition a "solid citizen" and then some. He is in his 50s, a pillar of church and community (as was his father before him in the same town), and a very successful architect. He is hard-working, honest as the day is long, a Vietnam veteran, and respected by all who know him. He is a grandfather.

Johnny is not a pilot and never has been. I can't remember that he ever expressed a great interest in aviation.

Recently, the Collings Foundation flew its B-24 Liberator - a genuine flying warbird that actually saw combat during World War II - into Johnny's town. It became known that you could actually fly in this awesome piece of world history called The Dragon and his Tail. The price was a bit steep for most - about $350, I believe - and there were relatively few takers. To everyone's surprise, one of those takers was Johnny. He plunked down his money and went for a ride.

Johnny's wife was as surprised as anyone. After all, Johnny had never shown a deep interest in aviation. Yet he bellied up to the bar and put down $350 to take a flight in a half-century-old bomber.

Why did he do it?

Johnny took that flight because he loves history and - although few knew it of him - he does share with most Americans a deep fascination with flying.

Here's the sad part of it - nobody has ever tried to sell Johnny flying lessons.

Here's a man who can certainly afford to fly. He has the technical background. His children are through with school; he has his dream house; he has a boat. He could become a good pilot and aircraft owner. He could afford to do it right, and he would take pride in doing so.

I wonder how many other people there are like Johnny? People who harbor an almost secret fascination with aviation and could - if someone would just invite them - scratch that itch in style?

I also wonder how many people like Johnny actually start taking flying lessons, then fail to find the romance that attracted them in the first place? Has the flight-training industry, in the necessary drive for practicality and safety, become so humdrum that we have removed the glamour and excitement of the sky? If we really looked at all of those who start, then drop out, how many Johnnies would we find?

How long has it been since you helped a student to relish the beauty of the skies and the glory of flight? Have we quit selling and sharing the wonder of the air? Isn't that what drew you into aviation?

The romance is still out there, and there are still people like Johnny with whom we have not shared the awe and excitement of our world.

Let's go back to basics. Help your students develop their passion for flying. Share the beauty of a sunset or sunrise - the pleasure of an early morning flight and the sheer joy of a rainbow from the sky. Talk to nonpilots of the wonders of flight.

Who knows - maybe we can get some of them to take up flying instead of motorcycling.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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