Round the World: Ho-Hum?
Here at AVweb, there are certain kinds of stories we have trouble with. By trouble, I mean deciding what to do with them, how to play them or even to run them at all. Aviation lawsuits are an example. We usually ignore these. Some crash stories are hard to place and record attempts and promotional stunts. These are sometimes one in the same.
So it was just before AirVenture we got an e-mail chiding us for…well, I'll quote the e-mail."Russ, you and your staff completely blew it. Here is the best aviation story of the year and you barfed. Of all the trivial BS you put on your site…and you miss this?" The writer, Pete Jessen, was referring to the recent round-the-world flight of Amelia Rose Earhart in a PC-12. Recall that this Amelia is a namesake of but no relation to the original who famously vanished in the Pacific in 1937.
We actually did cover the story, but because such promotions seem to come and go like the weather, we have trouble assigning much import to them. Jaded I guess. Ms. Earhart's accomplishment, wrote Jessen, was lining up the sponsors to ensure a successful flight and for that, "she deserves a ton of credit." OK, so here's the ton, or at least a few pounds worth. You can hear Ms. Earhart in her own words in this podcast recorded at AirVenture and decide for yourself how much credit is due or how important the flight was.
But back to promotional flights and records. Earhart's worthy goal was to raise money for training girls to fly. A laudable effort indeed, but do such things really achieve these goals or are they just ego flights on someone else's dime for the pilots? Are there better ways to do it without flogging an airplane around the world? A good question that I'm not sure I can answer. And that, I suppose, is why such stories don't get the editorial fires burning around here. Earhart's flight got coverage in the daily press, including short segments on the major networks. It's really only interesting because her name is Earhart. If it were Magillicutty, it would be just another PC-12 ferry flight. Does either promote aviation and grow the herd? Probably can't hurt, but my excitement meter isn't off the peg yet.
One effort that probably didn't help the aviation cause was another record attempt we reported on about the same time, that of Haris Suleman who, at 17, was attempting to be the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe in under 30 days. He earned his private license just in June and was accompanied by his father, Babar Suleman. Haris was found dead in the water off American Samoa and the father remains missing. Again, they were raising money for charity, with aviation as the high-profile vehicle to draw in the donations.
Given all the crazy, risky stuff I've done in my life, I'm the last guy to cluck over adventures like this one. Far be it for me to be the crusher of dreams. My view is to go for it, just don't screw it up. Still, the instant the story broke, I was reminded of another incident many of you may recall in 1996: the death of seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff in Cheyenne, Wyoming during an attempt to be the youngest person to fly across the U.S. in a light aircraft. The record, fueled by media attention, was utterly meaningless since no one maintains such records and she wasn't a rated pilot anyway. Her flight instructor was PIC. Ever seeking to be relevant, Congress piled stupidity upon tragedy by passing the Child Pilot Safety Act, essentially outlawing such stunts. Perhaps they'd have done better to require licenses to become adults—not adult pilots, just adults.
Not that there's anything remotely novel about stunts like these and they are just that. The original Amelia's global flight was dreamed up by her husband, George Putnam, to promote his publishing ventures and her image. She even had her own line of luggage and sportswear. Even Charles Lindbergh's epic New York to Paris flight fits into the category, since hotelier Raymond Orteig's $25,000 prize was meant to promote aviation. It had no specific technical goals or requirements beyond surviving the attempt to accept the check.
But in those days, there was no television or real-time web feeds, so audiences were forced to imagine what was happening between fuel stops and over remote oceans. That must have made those flights more electrifying, if not more relevant. And maybe that's just it. We're all over stimulated in an age when YouTube has videos of people jumping from buildings with a GoPros attached to their gonads, and even these aren't that unique. Maybe flying around the world is just so ho-hum, so ordinary that it doesn't rise above the daily noise, even if it's for charity or a world record.
Or maybe it's just me.