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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Wischful Thinking
What is Aviation?

by Jay Wischkaemper

As I stepped out of the FBO, the aromatic smell of burned jet fuel permeated the air. The scream of ancient turbojets pierced the tarmac as the old Lear was directed to its parking spot. As I arrived a few minutes earlier, a King Air charter was leaving. Who was on it? Who knows. But whoever it was, the business would be conducted, and the people on board would sleep in their own bed tonight. On Runway 8, an airliner was departing for Dallas. Inside the hangar I had just left, a menagerie of flying machines sat, all receiving the tender, loving, expensive care necessary to keep them flying. A King Air sat next to an ancient Cessna Ag plane. There was a 172, and a Cherokee, and a 421, and a Cheyenne, each one sometimes treasured, sometimes cursed, by its owner. To the west, on a right downwind to 17 right, a Cherokee droned overhead. Training flight. Touch and go’s. An aviation incubation, and hopefully the birth of a pilot. A replacement for those who inevitably must, or choose to stop flying. Across the parking lot, an air ambulance helicopter departed. In an hour or so, it would be back, and a patient might be alive who would not have been had it not been for the care received. Last night on the news, that same King Air I had seen leaving was shown bringing a soldier home from war to see his two-week-old daughter for the first time, the charter courtesy of a local business. John Nelson, one of my partners, was flying an Angel Flight mission in our plane. Because of John’s generosity and love for flying, a heart patient who couldn’t afford the flight wouldn’t have to.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a typical day of airplanes and airplane people doing their thing.

Aviation. What is it? It’s a lot of things. It’s a time machine to make us more productive. It’s hope. It’s disappointment. It’s an employer. It’s a waste of money. It’s a maker of money. It’s a joy. It’s a heartache. It’s a passion. It’s a business tool. It’s a way of challenging ourselves. It’s a way of humbling ourselves. It’s a fraternity. It’s a perk for fat cats. It’s a financial struggle for others. It’s packages delivered overnight. It’s a means of moving large numbers of people quickly and efficiently over vast distances. It’s the two professionals sitting in the cockpit of that airliner. It’s a military capable of bringing tyrants to their knees through air power. It’s a smile on a pilot’s face as the Cub whispers along on a cool summer evening. It’s the excitement of a kid at an air show. It’s the adult with him who is trying not to act like a kid at an air show. It’s those talented few who demonstrate to us at those shows what these marvelous machines are capable of. It’s those who save lives. It’s those who take the lives of agricultural pests and who make this nation the richest agricultural powerhouse in the world. It’s millions of people who admire those who fly, and wish they could too. It’s all those things, and more.

And airports. They aren’t cold, lifeless expanses of concrete and buildings. They are alive. They are vibrant. Airports are as much about people as they are about airplanes. Even those with less traffic than a major hub sit expectantly, waiting for the time when they can be of value, knowing that their importance is measured not in the number of arrivals, but by the fact that when they are needed for that one arrival, they are there. They are home to some of the finest people anywhere. Airplane people. The most insignificant of them breathe with a vitality understood only by those who fly.

Do most people understand? How could they? Those who shake their heads at the insanity of airplane fanatics have no idea what we feel. To most, an airplane is seat 21D. It’s flight attendant instructions and cockpit announcements. It’s filing on and filing off and storing bags under the seat in front of you. It’s staring for hours at the knob holding the tray table to the seat back. That will get you where you’re going, but that isn’t aviation as we know it. Aviation isn’t about the ride. It isn’t about the destination. It’s about the experience. It’s the reading and the listening and the camaraderie. It’s critiquing a landing, or admiring one. It’s me looking at your plane, and telling you how nice it is. It’s swapping war stories. It’s giving advice. It’s taking advice. It’s sitting around the table inside the hangar with burgers on the grill outside. It’s pancakes at a fly-in breakfast. It’s spending a hundred dollars to go eat breakfast. It’s encouraging one another. It’s the smell of burning jet fuel wafting over a tarmac. It’s the noise of propellers. These things and many more are the experience. It’s nothing you can describe to someone. You have to, well, experience it.

Regardless of your view of aviation, we all learned on September 12, 2001 what the world would be without it. On my travels in Europe and England, I never had the opportunity to look in the sky to try to identify the type of plane overhead. It wasn’t a problem with my eyes. It was a problem with the airplanes. They weren’t overhead. Except for airliners, the skies of most of the world are serenely, and sadly quiet. Private airports are rare. Aviation is an activity for the privileged few. What a shame. And what a privilege we have in this great nation to have a general aviation system, which, while regulated, is nowhere near as restrictive as that of other countries. A system in which the average Joe can take to the skies and pursue his passion.
Let’s appreciate what we have. Let’s protect what we have. Let’s give the public a correct view of who we really are, and what we really do. We are the privileged many. Share the blessing. J

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure.
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