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License to Learn: What’s in a date?

May 1939 isn’t just Batman’s birthday

AOPA has been nothing less than a caped crusader protecting the liberty of everyone who flies.

Rod Machado Etymology is the study of word roots. It’s not the study of insects, which is entomology. It’s easy to confuse the two, which is why some people think that either term refers to the study of “bug words.” It’s really a problem of pronunciation. Perhaps that’s why the local buzz suggests that a “hot entomology” is a Mexican dish made with corn and crickets.

The word anniversary, however, easily rolls off the tongue and seldom confuses. Its etymology is Latin, with its root meaning to “return yearly.” Unless our special day occurs on February 29, most of us celebrate anniversaries of some type—be they birthdays, weddings, or bar mitzvahs.

Anniversaries are significant on many levels. Some pilots, for example, schedule their medical exam on the anniversary of their birth (their birthday). Apparently, the sudden appearance of candles, cake, and friends reminds them that they’re supposed to be attached to a sphygmomanometer somewhere. More important, our anniversaries serve as a cultural mnemonic helping us remember that something important happened that’s worth celebrating. What better reminder is there than the reappearance of familiar star patterns after a planetary loop around the sun to kick off the festivities?

Yes, I said festivities, because it’s the celebration that helps us reconnect with the original meaning of that significant past event. In the inescapable clutch of time, our emotional attachment to historical dates and events diminish. Think about it. We seldom celebrate the birthdays of famous scientists and, as a result, fail to accurately remember their accomplishments. That’s why many people think that Madame Curie Fleming invented radioactive penicillin. Celebration is the agency by which our intellect and emotions collaborate to sustain the meaning of a historical event.

Of course, celebrations are not always accompanied by “party hat” headsets, “boom-mic” kazoos, and forbidden ramp dances. On a very Spartan level, these might be solitary activities where you isolate yourself and express gratitude for the good and important things that have happened to you. More often, they’re communal events where individuals with similar interests—I’m thinking of pilots here—don propeller hats, offer toasts by raising cups of freshly decanted avgas, and step to the “No Step” two-step.

The essential element of any celebration is remembering the reason behind the festivities. So what happened 75 years ago in May 1939 that’s worth celebrating? True, it was the date Batman first appeared in comics. It was also the birth of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association at Wings Field near Philadelphia. Don’t get confused here. This wasn’t the date that AOPA’s founder, P.T. Sharples, saved Gotham City. It was when general aviation began speaking with a single voice of reason in support of pilots and the machines they fly.

As I see it, AOPA has been nothing less than a caped crusader protecting the liberty of everyone who flies a general aviation aircraft. Were it not for AOPA, we’d have fewer airports from which to fly, more VASIs unnecessarily decommissioned, and more pilots sporting handcuffs because they didn’t respond quickly enough to a U.S. Customs agent’s command to “hit the dirt.” Without AOPA overseeing the FAA’s often heavy hand of regulation, we’d probably be rocked back into the Stone Age of flying, where logging flight time involves building airplanes out of actual logs. Just imagine what the radio calls would be like: “Tower, this is Duraflame One reporting downwind. Be advised, I’ll be landing hot.”

This is why I plan on celebrating AOPA’s founding this month. I shall gather a few pilot friends (propeller hats optional), raise a strainer of avgas (OK, something a bit tastier), and chat about the significance of AOPA and airplanes in our lives.

Rod MachadoJoin me in celebrating AOPA’s seventy-fifth anniversary with the same enthusiasm that the French celebrate Bastille Day. Treat the date as you would your wedding anniversary—you wouldn’t dare forget that special event, especially if you enjoy sleeping indoors. Despite the good intentions of many individuals, groups, and government organizations, their behaviors sometimes lead to a reduction in your liberty to fly. AOPA stands guard against these forces. The organization is to general aviation as Batman is to Gotham City. Strangely enough, both were founded on the same date. Coincidence? You make the call—or use that searchlight.

Rod Machado began flight instructing in 1973 and began writing for AOPA Pilot in 1998.


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