Adventure and the Future of Flying

By Scott Spangler on April 28th, 2010

JW-Sportsman-AK Celebrating her birthday at our favorite brewpub, my wife was spending part of the quarter-billion dollar Powerball lottery prize just before the drawing that gave it to a Missouri convenience store worker instead of her and a pool of coworkers.

Sharing the winnings with me she asked if I would start flying again and what airplanes I would buy, saying “You could have one for aerobatics, an SNJ, and one that would take us to see the grandkids.”  Being a pragmatic realist, not to mention persistently frugal (or, as my wife says, “stubborn and cheap”), I took a sip and seriously considered an answer.

Answering her first question was more difficult. Everyone flies for a different reason. For me, having an autopilot fly me from Point A to B is boring for the same reason airline travel is boring. Seth Stevenson said it best in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece. The Icelandic volcano caused travelers to find alternatives, which was good,  “because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.”

JS-Bus-Pax Most flying today is no different than  taking the bus, where the other passengers are the  “adventure.” GA is like taking the car, and you get to pick your traveling companions. Cue the memories of childhood road trips and  your anticipation for the next one.Taking another sip, it struck me that perhaps this lack of adventure is aviation’s missing growth hormone.

In my formative aviation years flying was anything but clinical. It was Steve Canyon comics (getting his helmet made my Christmas!) and Clutch Cargo cartoons of aerobatic adventures and aerial explorations of little visited corners of the planet. Airline travel was a special event with a dress code where everyone was on the best behavior.

Such adventures are still possible, at least in GA, but creating them isn’t simple or inexpensive. My all-time best airborne adventure ever was flying a Sportsman 2+2 from Arlington, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska, with the good folks from Glasair Aviation and a gaggle of Glastars. We flew up the trench, landed on gravel bars, and camped out.

This trip was special because it was a rare visit to heaven, and it sustains me. (And to answer my wife’s second question, fixed costs for a fleet of airplanes would quickly deplete the lottery prize we almost won, so one airplane that met several missions would have to do, and that one plane would be a Sportsman, with Tundra tires, skis, and floats.) 

So what passes for adventure today, aviation or otherwise, with the millennial generation, which is now starting to spend its discretionary time and money? What cartoons and comics—excuse me, graphic novels—fed their interests and shaped their lives? And how does aviation today stand up to that? – Scott Spangler


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4 Responses to “Adventure and the Future of Flying”

  1. Mark Jones Jr Says:

    Sign me up for the next adventure! I think it’s worth the money too, and I also agree that it IS the jump start for GA’s dead battery.

  2. Julien Says:

    What passes for adventure today? I’m afraid adventure has become a dirty word for the millennial generation. Adventure implies risks, and this generation is very, very risk-averse.

  3. Jason @ Conservative Sense Says:

    Flying is a never ending series of adventures. Learning to fly is itself an adventure. Planning even small trips to new destinations is always a great adventure. Taking people for their first flights is a very rewarding experience/adventure.

    The adventure aspect is a big part of why I went from skydiving to being a pilot. While piloting may not be quite as exciting, each flight has the potential to be a new adventure.

  4. Don "Rocket Tech" Says:

    Thanks for the great article felt like i had a seat in that Alaskin passage and the pines smelled great on the gravel beach.
    I allways loved flight but never had enough money to get anything done… I took glider rides in Germany with skilled pilots and swallowed hard when I first heard the bang from the lever on the cable pin being pulled. There I was flying. Flew in about every common helicopter and aircraft the military has twenty years and seven day of it but hey” (whose counting) I was flying! Shot Rockets & missiles most of my adult life and the joke goes in flight missile mechanic. Like Scott says.. Nothing beats a good adventure with the pilot in charge

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