Media Frenzy, GA Opportunity?

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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.

Comments (6)

CarolAnn Garratt, Ocala, FL and Carol Foy, Spicewood, TX flew around the world and set a record to try to raise $1 million for ALS. The media has not put enough emphasis on their accomplishment.

Posted by: Pete Christensen | October 19, 2009 8:20 AM    Report this comment

Read Richard Bach's Johanathan Livingston Seagull and Reluctant Messia. These are Aviator Novellas!

Posted by: Jim Bruchas | October 19, 2009 8:32 AM    Report this comment

This lack of public awareness is largely due to the attitude of pilots. We have wanted non-fliers to see us as "special" and in the process have pushed them away. We need to say to everyone, "You can fly too!"

I will not be saying much to friends until I see how well the movie runs in terms of accuracy etc. Movie reality is too frequently modified from the real world.
No matter what we might say or suggest, the press always has its own agenda...and the press always has the final word.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 19, 2009 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Al Haynes, wasn't he the pilot that worked the controls connected to nothing while Denny Fitch worked the throttles to fly the aircraft as best as he had practiced, and actually brought it to an airport for the spectacular arrival ?

Posted by: John Phillips | October 20, 2009 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Actually I think we are special--because we have the ability to do something that very few others can do. Of course, many of those could learn to do what we do, if they would want to dedicate the time and effort. When I was instructing (and I'm sure other instructors would echo this) I often lost students along the way when they simply did not want to exert the effort, not because they could not do it. Too often they started out thinking that an airplane was nothing more than an aerial car, and when they learned that the additional dimension meant significantly additional work to master, they were unwilling.

I hope "Amelia" is well done--there have been some aviation flicks which have been good, although admittedly there have been awful ones, too. When that happens or when the press screws things up, that's the time clarify actuality to others.

Finally, I wouldn't besmirch Al Haynes in the slightest, regardless of who worked what in the cockpit. I had clients whose children were on that flight who survived the crash, and I think everyone in the cockpit deserves credit.


Posted by: Cary Alburn | October 20, 2009 1:00 PM    Report this comment

I think you missed the point. I do not besmirch Al Haynes. My comment was aimed at the media who presented one person as a hero while the real hero slipped by without notice.

Posted by: John Phillips | October 20, 2009 5:56 PM    Report this comment

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