New Book Holds Hope for Aviation’s Future

By Scott Spangler on November 26th, 2008

JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol-1 The only thing that sucks worse than the economy right now is the state of aviation. Mix layoffs with shrinking pilot numbers and the growing list of new regulations and requirements that benefit only bureaucrats, and you have a case of cynicism about the industry’s future.

In living aviation history for the past three decades, and reading about that which I missed, it strikes me that aviation remained vital in the direst circumstances, like the Great Depression, when flying was an adventure that brought people together, and attracted newcomers.

JetWhine_Starks BookThat spirit started fading in the late 1970s, and by the mid-1980s, aviation was a commodity, something you bought when needed, like garbage bags or a bus ticket. People are still part of the equation, but not like they used to be. The people who matter are no longer passionate participants, they are shareholders focused on the bottom line and see the future one quarter at a time.

Aviation’s future lies not with these modern aviators, for whom numbers and the latest gadgets matter most. It is an ember of hope sustained by scattered bands of grassroots aviators, like those Dick Starks writes about in his new book, Fokkers at Six O’clock.

It continues the saga begun in his first book, You Want to Build & Fly a What?, about his learning to fly, the construction of his VW-powered Nieuport replica, and the birth of Kansas City Dawn Patrol in 1985. Fokkers starts, more or less, with the Great Flood of ’93, which inundated Liberty Landing International, a grassroots private strip about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City Downtown Airport and 20 miles east southeast of Kansas City International. It ends with the Starks’s hauling their Morane to Canada in June 2008 for its role in the forthcoming movie, Amelia.

JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol What makes these adventures, and all those in between, is the participants social connection. They genuinely care for each other (that’s Dick on the left, with Mark Pierce, Dick’s wife, Sharon, and Tommy Glaeser, who built the replica Fokker Triplane) and anyone else who shares their passion for stick and rudder flying. The stories Dick recounts are not about gadgets and numbers, but about the fun they had together–in the air and on the ground.

All pilots have Walter Mitty dreams, but few have the courage to pursue them in a wide-awake world. Dick and his compatriots are courageous because they brave the judgment of their “peers.” You read this between the lines, when Dick talks about being a “Trailer Weenie.”

No matter the discomfort or inconvenience, “real” pilots fly to their destination. Dick and his buddies did that once, and the flight to Oshkosh from Kansas City in their light airplanes was enough. Now they drive their airplanes to where they want to fly, often an air show, like the annual World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous gathering at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton.  Who among us wouldn’t like to fly there at least once? Despite their unintentional shenanigans, the Air Force has asked the boys from KC back several times.

Without a doubt, when it comes to Dick and the gang, I’m biased (and I wrote the backup forward, in case the one promised by a well known editor didn’t arrive by press time). But not only because they are friends. But because they are the heart of aviation, aviators who have not lost their passion for the magic of flight. Each flight, even if it’s 10 minutes in the pattern, is an adventure they can’t wait to begin. I used to feel that way, and I want to feel that way again.

Perhaps you feel the same way. If you do, get Dick’s book. Remember, flying is mostly a mental activity, and Fokkers at Six O’clock will, if anything, put you in a good mood. And, for me, that’s an important place to start. It sells for $18.95, cheaper than going to the movies and it lasts longer and is more satisfying. You can order it from Amazon.com, or www.kcdawnpatrol.org, which accepts credit card payments through PayPal. As a bonus, you get a free DVD,   the homebrewed Introduction to the Dawn Patrol.

It’s a good book of plain words that gives hope for the future of aviation, if we pilots will remember that the key to flying happiness is not gadgets and more speed, more power. It’s people, it’s building an extended family of like-minded souls who haven’t forgotten the new pilot’s thrill of levitating skyward on magic wings of any sort. For reminding us of this important fact, we all owe the grassroots gang that lives on the pages of Fokkers at Six O’clock a debt of thanks. —Scott Spangler

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6 Responses to “New Book Holds Hope for Aviation’s Future”

  1. Norman Says:

    Scott,

    A LGB straight through the toilet window. Excellent and right on the mark.

    TTFN

  2. Matt Thomas Says:

    Thanks for the post about the Dawn Patrol, I’ve seen them several times. Great stuff.

    Questions:
    Do most pilots fly for fun?

    Do they risk finding other things do to that are perhaps more fun?

    I ask after referencing the FAA’s 2007 demographic info. The average age of a student pilot is 34, average age of a private pilot is 48, and average ages of recreational and sport pilots are 52. I’m guessing by their ages that a large segment of the pilot population is not on the career path to the airlines, so they might just be flying for the sheer joy of it, which is great.

    However, I also wonder about the recent growth in recreational flight simulators, and RC planes. Could they be capturing some of the attention that otherwise would be focused on fun activities in real airplanes? I’m not even mentioning all the non-aviation things that clamor for our attention.

  3. JetAviator7 Says:

    I am currently reading a book sent to me for review about a young lady named Polly Potter who recounts her desire to learn to fly in the early 30’s through her passion for flying medical supplies to Baja California (poverty stricken Mexico.

    While not edited very well, and probably self published, Polly’s friend Betty Kaseman recounts Polly Potter’s life and times. From her first encounter with aircraft owned by a barnstormer who flew off a beach near her home, to ferrying aircraft in World War II and beyond.

    You are right – the romance of flying seems to be fading into the past. Pity – if we don’t know where we came from it’s hard to figure out where we are going.

    Thanks for reminding me of the glory days of flying.

  4. Scott Says:

    Norman: Thanks for your kind words. Pardon my ignorance, but does LGB stand for something other than the airport identifier for Long Beach, California (where I learned to fly, by the way)?

    Matt: Interesting question. Right off the top of my head, I think most pilots learn to fly for fun, but that emotion rarely seems to last. Economics has a lot to do with the ages of today’s pilots. Let me give this some thought, and talk to some friends here and there, and maybe the answers will be worth a post next week.

    Jet Aviator: And the glory days of flying are not gone. You just have to create them for yourself, which is the whole point of Dick’s book.

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