Aerotrekking Back to Coffin Corner

By Scott Spangler on June 12th, 2008

Given the world’s sorry state and aviation’s place in it, hope for the future is at the coffin corner. To help maintain that delicate balance it is natural to withdraw into–and protect–our little corner of aviation’s diverse world, sacrificing the others for our survival.

Over the past year or so this survival mechanism has surfaced in many conversations, including those that have followed several past posts, Low CFI Birthrate & Graying Population Adding to Teacher Shortage and Cessna Pilot Centers May be GA’s Last Hope for Reversing Pilot Population Decline. Needless to say, it pitched me into a death-spiral of despair. In tough times we need to support each other. And if we, the family of pilots, are sharing our isolationist critiques with newcomers–directly or indirectly– then we deserve to be a dying population.

aerotrekking My recovery to the coffin corner of hope came from an unexpected resource, the current issue of National Geographic Adventure. It introduced its more than 600,000 readers to aerotrekking in an eight page feature story, John McAfee’s Flying Circus Wants You!, written by Tom Clynes and photographed (including this one) by Dawn Kish.

Their Southwestern backcountry flying adventures in weight-shift light-sport aircraft–trikes–brought to mind my all-time favorite aerial sojourns: flying a homebuilt Glasair Sportsman 2+2 in a flight of five from Washington to Alaska, and in an exploring the unimproved strips in Idaho’s Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in an Aviat Husky with a band of flying friends who each year meet for their Backcountry Safari.

I’ve only flown trikes a couple of times, but they are more fun than you’re supposed to have in the air. As I read the aerotrekking article I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to retrace Richard Bach’s 1965′ Nothing by Chance barnstorming adventure in trikes? Besides being grassroots fun for those involved, it would be interesting to see if a gaggle of gaily colored trikes dropping into a farmers field would excite people to the point of joining in on the fun of flying in one way or the other.

As sure as I’m writing these words, somebody will tell me in no uncertain terms that this is not real flying. To which I respectfully reply: Nonsense! If something gets you off the ground–it’s flying! Just because you wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it is not real. It doesn’t give you the right to dis something you’ve never tried. This is not fair to pilots who prefer this type of flying over managing the airborne technology that fills modern instrument panels. And, most of all, it’s not fair to someone in eye or earshot who might find it exciting, even if you don’t.

No matter what aspect of flying we love and protect, we owe it to our pilot peers to see–and appreciate–the attraction of every form of flight. Flying for an airline has never appealed to me. Instead of muttering “bus driver” and other such comments, I honestly appreciate and respect the skill and knowledge this position requires.

The same is true for all the other aspects of aviation that really don’t get my juices flowing. If these other forms of flight excite people, as they obviously do, good on them. Welcome to the family! And I’ll offer every encouragement to motivate and sustain their particular aviation pursuit.

Transiting the current environment at the precarious coffin corner is no aviator’s idea of fun. But if we remember that ours is not the only corner of the sky, if we encourage others to join us in the ocean of air, no matter how they sail on it, perhaps it will see us sooner reach safer skies. –Scott Spangler

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3 Responses to “Aerotrekking Back to Coffin Corner”

  1. Jess Sightler Says:

    Nice post, and I 100% agree. I haven’t had the opportunity to fly a trike, but I think the people who think that isn’t “real flying” need to rethink things considerably. If anything this is real flying, and being wrapped in a .5 million USD aircraft isn’t. :)

    Of course, the big fancy Cirrus has its place (sweet airplane), but there’s something to be said for flying over the country side at a modest altitude in a little trike as well.

  2. B Alvarius Says:

    It’s 1920′s style aviation with 21st century technology. Properly managed, weight shift control aircraft are as safe as any other aircraft. It’s open cockpit flying at its best. Not as fast, max 140 kph, but much more fun. On Monday I got 40 mpg on a 95 mile flight using regular automotive gas.

  3. Scott Thomason Says:

    Yes, there is nothing wrong with htis type of flight. It is likely the most “purest” form I can think of.
    But note that it was started and funded by a millionaire, and participated in by wealthy singles and couples without children and other types of people that can choose to live in the American outback and not worry about the future.
    It doesn’t sound like what your average family man, trying to support a family, save for college, pay a mortgage, save for retirement, etc. will be able to do.
    If this sort of thing can spread to the outer suburbs and smaller cities and people closer to “average” types can partcipate, then we’re talking. As a note of unusual optimism for me, I think it’s possible. Given the low fuel burn and the simplicity of the machines, we should be able to duplicate this, say somewhere in the Southeast would be nice. This is much more likely to generate new pilots than the typical 9+ gph, $100,000 “kit” plane we read about in magazines.
    Can we get Mr. McAfee to come out here and spend another $12 million?

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