When the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, a coalition formed by the leaders of the 19 sites that comprise the National Aviation Heritage Area (both served by the NAHA acronym), invited me to its inaugural Aviation Writers Summit in Dayton, Ohio, I accepted without expectations. My anticipation of the event, which concluded last Friday afternoon, was eager because we would visit many of the sites that have long been on my aviation to-do list. But the symposium held a subtle surprise worth much more than tick marks on my selfish list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. It is a lesson for everyone in aviation that might hold the key to the industry’s rebirth.
If there has been a common denominator to the countless aviation media events I’ve attended for nearly three decades it is that the effort is focused on enlarging a single slice of the shrinking aviation pie. In a larger context, one could argue that the summit’s goal was the same, but scaling generalizations works in both directions. With 19 NAHA sites represented, not once during our daily interactions with their leaders at receptions or dinners, did any conversation, participatory or overheard, deviate from the shared goal of improving the lot of everyone involved. In many cases, the conversations delved into the ways the larger members, like the National Museum of the United States Air Force, have, are, and will support the whole.
The symposium (its participants here with Amanda Wright Lane and Smithsonian aviation curator Tom Crouch at the 1905 Wright Flyer) was elegantly organized and efficiently run, and the defining example of it was the announcement to all during the reception at the National Aviation Hall of Fame before we all adjourned to the adjacent Air Force Museum for dinner. Explaining that when mixing different groups people tend to congregate with those they already know, to integrate the aviation writers and the individual NAHA site leaders the evening’s emcee, Susan Richardson, asked everyone to sit at the table indicated by the number on the back of our nametags. I was at No. 4. This resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable dinner conversation with the nine other people at the table because no single facet of aviation dominated it.
Promising to write about any of the NAHA sites was not a requirement for accepting the Aviation Writers Summit invitation. They would be thrilled if that happened, naturally, and they openly hoped that we aviation word merchants would become their advocates, which is the hope of every media event organizer. And they made one of me, but not because of my to-do items it ticked, but because of how it was organized and presented. That a diverse group from the aviation community on any scale can focus on efforts to sustain and improve the activities of all is evidence that aviation, at least at its birthplace in (as its residents call it) “Dayton O.” has a future. –Scott Spangler, Editor