AOPA President Phil Boyer joined the association in 1967 and became its president in 1991.
Behind my desk is a cabinet containing bound copies of AOPA Pilot dating back almost 30 years. I decided to pick up the volume for 1987, taking me two decades back from the present day, and 20 years forward from getting my private pilot certificate in 1967. As an AOPA member since getting my certificate, I found that many of the covers and pages of these mid-1980s' Pilot magazines looked quite familiar, and I actually recalled some because of the stories that had an impact on my passion for flying. As publisher since 1991, I often now view the magazine in a different light than do the more than 400,000 readers who don't work for the association.
What immediately caught my eye was an April 1987 story on the FAA reauthorization. Then-AOPA President John Baker was able to explain the funding of the agency in easy-to-understand detail, just as I have attempted to simplify the explanation of fuel taxes, airline ticket taxes, and the various cargo and charter taxes. Unlike our battle today, there was no strong call for user fees, but there was a definite push for more taxation. It is interesting to note, however, that the concerns for funding were just as they are today: modernizing the system to add capacity in a growing air transportation environment. General aviation airport funding was an important part of the funding appeal. Cost of flying, our number-one issue today, also permeated the pages of Pilot in the past. Even though fuel prices were less than 50 percent per gallon compared with today's, one issue of the magazine had almost a dozen pages of published fuel prices at airports around the country. The Internet has certainly changed the delivery method of "changing" information, and we at AOPA will soon be adding up-to-date fuel pricing information as part of the association's expanded electronic AOPA's Airport Directory, weather, and flight-planning programs.
A long article by Pilot's Editor at Large Tom Horne, with excellent graphics, covered the Washington, D.C., airspace changes, reminding me of our post-9/11 security challenges. Twenty years ago, however, Washington was the center of a terminal control area (TCA; now Class B airspace) and Baltimore and Dulles were surrounded by airport radar service areas (ARSAs; now Class C airspace). Airspace challenges in that trying year also hit Los Angeles, because of the tragic midair collision of a small airplane and an airliner over Cerritos, California, on August 31, 1986. All VFR corridors were closed, and AOPA faced the regulatory call for adding Mode C altitude encoding to all transponders.
Advertisements for training and products were prevalent in the magazine, as they are today. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation was in the final years of offering three-day ground schools for the private pilot written exam. And John and Martha King were making this task more convenient by selling videotapes for the same exam. A Sporty's ad touted a Sony handheld transceiver with far fewer features and a much higher price than its own branded product today. Surprisingly, the Professional Instrument Courses Inc. ad for its 10-day instrument-rating course hasn't changed in the slightest.
I've always been attracted to new avionics, which is a polite way to say that I am the ultimate "gadget freak." Contained in these back pages of Pilot were several articles and advertisements on the improvements in loran, but little mention of today's Global Positioning System used for long-range navigation. A major article covered an innovation that has been a true safety boon particularly to single-engine airplanes, the TKS anti-icing system. One of the greatest limitations on using a small airplane in colder climates was on the brink of becoming a safety has-been.
What am I doing wrong? Some of the dozen editorials that year in what is now the space of my "President's Position" were written and bylined by others on the Pilot staff. I am often asked by airplane manufacturers to fly their new airplanes. My common response is, "I wish I had the time, but that's not in my job description; that's what we pay the qualified aviation writers at our magazine to do." Lo and behold, however, there was a wonderful feature article in the November 1987 issue authored by then-president and publisher Baker on the Ford Tri-motor, one of my favorite older airplanes. How about it, Pilot staff? I'll trade you a president's column for an airplane checkout anytime.
Late in the 1987 volume of Pilot issues were full-page ads and bind-in reply cards. They were for a product from ABC Television called Wide World of Flying, and that really brought back the memories of my first — other than being a member — association with AOPA. As the ABC-TV executive in charge of Wide World of Flying, I thought the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association might be the ideal place to build subscribers for this unique new product, a video magazine. Without that direct contact, I might not be writing this column or leading the world's largest aviation organization. Truly, general aviation has many unique and different problems and opportunities, but this look back certainly reminded me that some things never change.