This weekend is the second International Learn to Fly Day, an effort to find more pilots to add to the long-dwindling ranks. The numbers of general aviation pilots have been in decline for quite a while now, as the younger generations seem more and more distracted by too many other ways to spend their time and money. All the GA advocacy groups worry about it, but I wonder if despite all the things they worry about -- the costs, the safety, the training, the usefulness and high-tech aura of the airplane -- maybe even more important is the inspiration, the drive to fly that turns discouraging obstacles into exciting challenges.
Learn To Fly Day aims to address that by encouraging pilots to share their own passion with someone new, in the hopes that it will be catching. And I think it can be. But that spark needs to find something to catch onto, and I think in many cases that something can be provided by stories that fire our imagination. Older pilots still talk fondly of the old Sky King TV shows about a rancher, his niece Penny and the twin Cessna that turned their lives into an adventure. Others remember the books of Ernest Gann, Antoine St. Exupery, Richard Bach, or Beryl Markham as important factors in their drive to become aviators. I might be wrong, but I doubt that many folks under 40 have even heard of these authors, never mind read their work.
A lucky few have their own family stories about people they've known, or airplane adventures they were involved in growing up. But for people new to aviation -- and that's most people -- that personal connection is missing. Taking part in Learn to Fly Day at your local airport is one way to create those connections. Those who are curious to learn more can find plenty of videos, magazines and websites to feed the need for information about flying. But what about inspiration? That's harder to find, and we need more of it.