Looking Bach at Aviation Eras

By Scott Spangler on June 2nd, 2014

Recovered from his landing mishap in the Pacific Northwest, Richard Bach has resumed his online conversation, and he is as thought provoking as ever. In “Change of an Era” he reflects on the change progress has always brought to aviation, and the choices pilots must make in adapting to it.

Aviation’s first new era occurred during the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Bach wrote, when pilots who wanted to fly every day advanced from “looking at the world outside of their open cockpits” to “flying blind” with the aid of “needle-ball and alcohol.”

This instrument era of aviation lasted for 50 or 60 years, he continues, and then progressed to the digital era. With “flat plate moving maps,” he describes it as “all pretty colors to show one’s position, altitude, restricted areas, terrain, weather, other airplanes in the sky.”

In closing, Bach writes that, “uninterested in modern aircraft, modern moving maps, electric motors to turn propellers,” he realized that “aviation has passed me and my time.” But that is, it seems to me, a personal perspective.

Aviation’s saving attribute is that new eras spawned by progress do not replace the one that came before. They are nothing more than additions that are convenient signposts that measure the passage of time. One needs no more proof of this than the flight line at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Like Bach, my preferred era of aviation does not employ a full suite of digital technology. And like Bach, who transitioned several years ago to a very light amphibian he christened Puff, I can still aviate in it. What other endeavor gives its participants such a wide range of opportunities?

Bach asked, “The sky that I have loved since I was six, has it changed, too?” In some ways, yes. The sky is a finite resource, so as aviation’s eras have grown in number, the airspace in which they reside has grown smaller to accommodate the newcomers.

But this reality is not without threat. A zero-sum mindset, where the new must replace the old, seems to be an ever stronger component in progress. But there is still sky in which we can revel in our chosen era, and so it will continue as long as we are proactive participants in the preceding eras we favor. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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