Should Aviation’s Past Promote its Future?

By Scott Spangler on December 9th, 2013

Because it’s usually informative and entertaining, I’m addicted to the bonus material that accompanies DVD movies. When Netflix delivered Disney’s Planes, I devoured the main course and couldn’t wait for the credits to end before digging into the dessert features. One of them was the Top 10 Flyers in aviation history, which were, I’m assuming, selected by the film’s director and producers.

Preceding this list, director Klay Hall discussed the movie’s “flight plan” during a visit to Planes of Fame in Chino, California, with his teenage sons. It opened with them standing before a Grumman F9F Panther, a Korean War jet fighter, which his father flew for the Navy. It seemed clear that he was born after the baby boom, and his producer, in a later scene, appeared younger still, so I wondered who would be on their Top 10 list. It was a roster that provided few surprises.

In ascending order, Louis Blériot made the list at No. 10, followed by Bob Hoover, Bessie Coleman, Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, the Tuskegee Airmen, Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and the brothers Wright. There’s no denying the significance of their contributions, but in drawing attention to aviation, who will they interest beyond already infected airplane nuts? With the exception of Bob Hoover, most of their achievements preceded World War II, which is ancient history to the millennials who are aviation’s future.

It seems to me that many have made important contributions since aviation’s founding figures retired from the sky. And wouldn’t their diverse accomplishments catch the interest of the people now deciding on their futures? Why not compile—and promote—a Top 10 List of those who contributed to aviation in its last 50 years rather than its first half century?

Who would you put on that list?

In no particular order, I’d include Burt Rutan, whose innovative designs met impossible challenges, from unrefueled circumnavigations of the Earth to civilian space flight. Certainly some of their pilots, Dick Rutan, Jeanna Yeager, Steve Fossett, and Mike Melville should be on the list as well. Let’s not forget the dedicated geeks like human-powered flight pioneer Paul MacCready and airfoil designer John Roncz. And what about pilots who’ve redefined expected aircraft behavior? Sean D. Tucker is one name that immediately comes to mind.

Recent aviation pioneers don’t always fly aircraft, as Felix Baumgartner’s record freefall clearly proves. Nor are they pidgin holed to one particular aviation community. Hoot Gibson is a perfect example. A naval aviator who went from F-4s to F-14s before commanding the space shuttle, he started a third career with Southwest Airlines. He’s also a homebuilding general aviator who designed and built new wings for his Cassutt racer in which he set several aviation records. And let’s not forget his record-setting buddy, Bruce Bohannon.

Understanding the target audience is an important key to marketing success, so there seems to be a disconnect between today’s pool of potential aviation professionals and enthusiasts and the predictable promotion of yesterday’s pioneers. From its infancy aviation has always been forward looking, so why do we invariably promote it by looking to the past? –Scott Spangler, Editor


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6 Responses to “Should Aviation’s Past Promote its Future?”

  1. Bob Barton Says:

    Ah so apart from Louis Bleriot, no Euopean aviators made a significant contribution to aviation, only Americans? Hmmmm.

  2. Jeremy McMillen Says:

    I am surprised to see Joe Sutter is not on the list, I guess for me being more of a Commercial then GA guy is why I would of put him on the list but all the people they did put on are very deserving to be on such a list

  3. Rudolph W. Alvies Says:

    My take on this is there have been so many significant contributors to aviation in the modern era, most not mentioned even in this article.

  4. Scott Spangler Says:

    Rudolph, you’re right, since the birth of powered flight, thousands have made significant contributions to some aspect of aviation. That’s a number that no one person can know them all.

    Learning about them is a continual process, and Jeremy introduced me to the previously unknown Joe Sutter, the “Father of the 747.”

    My point is that when we introduce newcomers to aviation, we have to tailor it for the best chance of catching the attention of people who are buried by others also seeking their attention. In other words, we can’t rely on rote.

    Disney Planes clearly has a diverse audience, and the bonus features on the Top 10 Flyers of all time did pretty well on two of three categories of diversity, racial and sexual, but they missed, I feel, on the chronological.

  5. Joel Jenkinson Says:

    I think you would have to consider Yves Rossy for a list of more recent contributors.

  6. Charter Flight Guy Sri Lanka Says:

    Hope this year we see more promising flight concept designs being developed. I actually cant wait till the day where we see space tourists.

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