A Dream Within Reach
From the swashbuckling days of the post–World War I barnstormers to long-distance flying feats such as Charles Lindbergh’s iconic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, the appeal of flight was on a dizzying climb. The subsequent rise in the number of civilian pilots soon was eclipsed by the urgent enlistment and training of thousands of military pilots needed to fight World War II.
Flying was the dream of many young men and women early in the 20th century because aviation was the hot technology of those days. The expected postwar boom of “an airplane in every garage” fizzled, however, as returning vets got busy finding new jobs, raising families and buying homes. Military budgets were cut, pilots were released and general aviation companies began failing when their hopes to sell thousands of puddle-jumpers never materialized.
Growth returned to the industry as America became embroiled in Korea and the Cold War. The advent of the jet airliner raised the sights for civilian pilots and energized many of them to train for commercial flying. Air taxi services and regional aviation blossomed, resulting in the need for more pilots.
Close on their heels came the space program, encouraging many young fliers to become if not astronauts, then engineers, designers and technicians. One result of this admirable new venture far from earth’s atmosphere was that fewer newcomers were interested in aircraft as compared to spacecraft. Then other factors came along that discouraged aviation proponents, young and old alike. Rising fuel and aircraft prices led to greatly increased costs of flight training, while enhanced airport security ended the days when kids could hope to hang around an airport and wash planes in exchange for free flights.
Perhaps the secret to sparking new interest and new growth in aviation lies not in relentless forward momentum — in the appeal of the newer/bigger/ better just around the corner — but in deliberately harkening to the past. The military services and airlines continue to be an important part of recruiting, of course. But general aviation pilots can also help generate interest in flying by offering rides to kids, holding penny-a-pound flight events, supporting scouting aviation merit badge programs and encouraging the development of aviation-related career paths and internships at nearby colleges. If the aviation industry and private pilots work together, we can continue to inspire new generations to reach for the dream of flight.