For better or worse, live news events are now broadcast in real-time not only to those sitting at home in front of their TVs, but also to everyone working on a wifi'd computer anywhere in the world, or even carrying an iPhone. This week's breathless coverage of the runaway "balloon" in Colorado, which CNN reporters referred to as an "experimental aircraft," hints at how this can affect the public's view of things that fly -- and the people that fly those things. What caught my attention was that the missing boys' family was repeatedly characterized as strange and wacky, not because they chose to subject their kids to participation in a "Wife Swap" reality-TV show, but because they pursued an interest in science and weather.
Real pilots who fly real aircraft in the real world encounter strange attitudes about aviation every day. Some people perceive flight as a kind of supernatural event, and they imagine that pilots have some sort of superhuman power. Others see it as a kind of nerdy hobby for guys or gals who can't get a date, or a death-defying thrill-seekers' pursuit. Despite all the efforts of AOPA and EAA and others over many years, most people still have never flown in a GA airplane, and few know a real GA pilot. They don't know the stories that all of us know, stories by Lindbergh, St. Exupery, Ernest Gann and Beryl Markham, stories about the adventure and challenge and beauty of flight. They don't know the amazing aviators that all of us know, people like Patty Wagstaff and Sean Tucker and Jessica Cox, Barrington Irving and Al Haynes, and countless others.
So when a new mainstream movie comes out about people who fly, that's an opportunity for all of us to try to change the public perception. Amelia, the new biopic starring Hilary Swank, opens nationwide on Friday, October 23. Amelia Earhart represents the quintessential GA pilot -- she's not flying for a job, or for the military, but for the fun of it. She flew because she wanted her life to be an adventure. I haven't seen the film yet, so can't say for sure how well they capture the story, but the trailer looks promising.
So if you go to see the movie, bring a friend. Bring a girl. Bring along someone who has no idea what GA flying is all about, and maybe they'll walk away with an idea that it's all not quite as strange and whacky as they imagined... and they might even walk away inspired.