The world of aviation is said to be a tightly knit community. There is a kindred spirit in this connected village of folks who all share a passion for all things that fly.
However, this tribe is unlike any other societal grouping. It is driven by a shared wicked disease that controls the entirety of your life. Sure, we use positive words to spin it as a healthy thing, words like ‘passion’, ‘hobby’, ‘interest’; but those of us who feel the twitching yank of airplanes recognize that it is something else – it is an addiction. The collective is more of an assemblage of rambling plagued zombies who surrender to a nagging agony for aviation.
Having been infected by the aviation germ as a child, there seems to be no known cure. Once you are sickened for airplanes, all you can do is feed this habit and live a lifelong existence lurking in the far reaches of airports waiting to spot that next big hit of something exotic - perhaps a warbird or a heavy transport. Often, you cannot find the boundless rush of heavy iron, so even a small smack of a Cessna, Piper, or a Cirrus pulse tickler must suffice until the next spell compels you.
Once a year, the afflicted arise to sate their unquenchable thirst. We gather for the big fix. We come from all over the world to one point - Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We know well that here in this quaint mid-western valley that we can reach a level of aviation euphoria that cannot be found anyplace else. While it is impossible to satisfy our never-ending needs, it still temporarily overwhelms us and serves to fulfill the necessity right now nevertheless.
Of course, I am just poking fun at this passion for the aviation virus, but AirVenture is the Woodstock for pilots and want-to-be aviators. This year more than 642,000 gathered for the last week of July to pay homage to the hunger for flying. It was an inspiring gathering of like-minded folks who all come to kick tires, look at airplanes, hear the Doppler song of a Merlin V-12, and discuss minuscule details about flying that absolutely baffles and bewilders those outsiders who collectively shake their heads and roll their eyes at us.
One aspect that makes me happy is the community itself. I marvel at this gathering of friends and fans. Aviators know no boundaries of culture, age, language, colour, sex, education, or citizenship. If you are a pilot, then you are in the club. You crisply comprehend a divergent universe. You see the world diametrically; in a deeper manner that mere mortals cannot grasp. You enter a conception that blends physics with romance seamlessly. It marries sophisticated cutting-edge technology with old style, highly questionable, but workable know-how. Sometimes, using just a wool string to coordinate flight. It is simply magical how we can slip the surly bonds of the earth.
My village is the Buttonville Flying Club based at the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. We are perhaps 200 members strong. But when AirVenture rolls around every July, we rally en masse in Wisconsin to feed our condition. This year, about 40 members trekked to Oshkosh. Most flew into KOSH or neighbouring airports, some of us drove. We camped, rented homes, stayed at the university dorms, found distant hotels, and one even set up a tent in the gymnasium at the local YMCA. All sorts of levels of discomfort can be easily endured simply to play with airplanes.
We gather as a collective, with a goal to build even more plans to meet again, so as to continue the aviation conversations. During the days of the show, we all operate independently, or in small groups of two or three friends. Every day of the show, our club’s plan is to meet at noon at the AOPA tent for 10-20 minutes to discuss ideas for dinner, to share the hot topics, and discuss the fun times. As a group, dinner reservations for large numbers of 15 to 25 are pre-set for each evening and those so inclined, join in ad hoc.
On the Wednesday of AirVenture, I hosted a beer and ice cream social from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at my motorhome for members of the club. My 37-foot coach was my home for 21 days while I attended three airshows in three weeks – Geneseo, AirVenture, and Thunder over Michigan. It is my habit to sport a large Canadian flag off of the door awning. I fly a second Canadian flag high up on a mast 30 feet above grade to act as a beacon to guide the weary souls / soles towards the festivities. Finding a motorhome in the sea of 5,000 campsites can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. But a cold beer and ice cream awaited the brave folks who made the journey outside of the fenced-in exhibits.
What did we all talk about at the social gathering? Airplanes of course, what else.
These meetings make AirVenture special. Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”. Without exception, the club members generously help each other. When we come together for a shared passion, we support each other. We exchange knowledge, guide thoughts and ideas, debate and argue, and shape ourselves based upon the congregation to which we all subscribe. So, being a pilot is part of what makes me who I am – it is in my DNA. And, my pilot friends have a considerable influence over my ever-changing persona. We are all so different from one another, yet we hold a common bond that stitches us together into a beautifully woven fabric of strength, warmth, and wisdom.
The history of aviation should inspire us all to innovate, create, and know that impossible ideas are all possible. As pilots, we can all be fearless intrepid explorers. We can travel and see the world – or parts of it anyway. It is these adventures that make flying stimulating and fascinating. But, to do it alone is not nearly as much fun as doing it all as a member of a village of friends. Thus, I say, share the passion, share the affliction, be a part of it all. The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.