Aviation, the social leveling agent ?

Its funny looking back, how aviation tended to level out social demographics. The funniest I ever experienced was the dialog between a F100 A level exec and a auto mechanic. At the airport, both tended to wear biker attire, and flew similar airplanes, and often chat with one another. During the workweek, each had dramatically different roles…

One week, the F100 exec took his BMW in for some engine work. He never put 2+2 together that he knew the mechanic, nor did the mechanic the same. It was just business… Until the next weekend at the airport, when the mechanic was chatting about a car he worked on, and then a whole bunch of laughter ensured. The 2 guys did not recognize each other in their work attire, and just went about their business. At the airport, things added up, and they got a good chuckle out of the deal.

I remember the same as a young green behind the ears pilot flying parts here and there. I often would run into big wheels at any number of airport lounges during wait times, and we’d chat a bit. I had no idea who I would be talking to, short of the obviously attire they were wearing, or the jet they flew in on. Yet, the wisdom and the things I learnd from those fellows was always amazing, to say nothing of how much they would feel free to share with an interested youngster.

To some extent, this leveling thing seems to be somewhat history related. Years ago, I met a number Quiet Birdmen, and it blew my mind that these gurus of aviation held to such a level social playing field. It was the love of flying that brought folks together, whether it was a retired old guy in a 150, a airshow guy with a Stearman, or a 747 Captain, it made no difference, it was flying.

Today though, there does seem some disparity… and I’m not so sure why that is. Folks still love flying, but the starry eye teenager at the airport fence, or the grizzled old QB with a cigar perpetually flying the hanger have ceased to exist for the most part. I’m sure the sanitized sterile airport environment of today has some to do with it, but I’m leery to attribute causality. I’m thinking there has to be more… I think if it could be identified, and addressed, it might do more for aviation, that even the most expensive and dedicated marketing platform to generate interest.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Aviation, the social leveling agent ?”

  1. Ron – nice article. I agree that some elements of aviation are changing but I still find lots of what you referred to, an maybe even long for, in our world today. The EAA chapter meetings, the airport flyins, the big ones at Oshkosh and Lakeland all still draw together folks with a common love, regardless of their varied backgrounds. I live in an airport community which is really a concentrated version of what you describe. We recently gave out the Taylor awards for 5 guys here in the neighborhood with 50 plus years in aviation and airplane mechanics. These guys put on trousers (first time in years) and stood together to get this award. Each came from very different backgrounds; two were past airline pilots, one was a private pilot with 3000 plus hours, one was a chopper pilot and ex-FAA official; one flew many jets for the steel company. One could not have told them apart but for their stories. At our little airport we have folks from every walk of life who collect, routinely, as friends sharing one thing – and that is a love for aviation.
    I think there is hope :-))
    Happy flying (and instructing and writing)
    Ken

  2. This has been a really good read. It’s a coincidence that even a couple of days ago I was thinking about the captains and first officers of big, heavy-metal jets that I’ve met and how many of them were arrogant and down-right rude while many others were so caring, talkative, social & never hesitated to answer the hundreds of dumb and annoying questions I asked them.

    Thanks Ron for making me take a trip down the memory lane!

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