Do Stunts Help or Hurt?
When does a good promotional idea for aviation cross the line into a stupid stunt that makes us all look like a bunch of morons? My friend Jeff Owen of Premier Aircraft e-mailed me this week posing this very question. He was referring to the story we ran earlier this week describing Chet and Matt Pipkin's plan to set a record by remaining airborne in a Cessna 172 for 65 days, beating the old record by a day.
"I really don't like things that have the potential to impact our industry, which has been slaughtered already by sensationalist main stream media. We shouldn't be doing anything to help them think that we agree with, endorse or condone anything like this," says Owen.
"I have made my living for 30 years involved in aviation in one way or another and I have never been able to determine that stupid human tricks ever did anything positive for me or our industry except highlight that some of us are really stupid. Just because it is sensational does not mean that it deserves to be mentioned, let alone published--especially by an aviation media outlet as respected as AVweb."
I have to concede that he makes a good point. Do stunts like these really draw would-be pilots into the industry? Do they really cause people to pause and say, "Hey, isn't that cool; I wanna do that"? When Burt and Dick Rutan figured out how to fly around the world unrefueled, what did they really prove that was of lasting importance? Not much, actually, other than to get a remarkable airplane hung from the ceiling in the Air and Space Museum.
And speaking of ceilings, the 172 that holds the current record hangs in Las Vegas's McCarran Airport. I saw it last week and stopped to read the display notes because like everyone else, I love a spectacle and watching the world in its extremes has an irresistible allure. Non-pilots will be amazed at the mere feat while those of us who fly will be engaged by the technical challenge of doing thisóthe fueling, the ongoing maintenance, the human factors.
So there's no question we have to and will cover it. My personal view is this: if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. An attempt like this needs to be carefully organized and well executed for if it fails in some spectacularly stupid way, it'll be just another sign post leading the way to the Mount of Idiots.
Otherwise, I'm okay with it. But I'm not bracing myself for the influx of pilot wannabes.