I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how to revitalize the general aviation industry. One area I’ve focused on is identifying what makes pilots so passionate about aviation. What are the common bonds (Common Unity = Community) we share? Then I was hit with an “AHA” moment; I realized that all pilots are sensitive types. No, I don’t mean pilots get hurt feelings, but rather, they are sensitive to the environment surrounding them. I first noticed this back in the 70’s. I was flying in a brand new Piper Lance (with club seating), sitting just behind the pilot, facing aft. E.K. Jones, the legendary leader of Iowa City Flying Service, was in the far rear seat. I heard (felt) a very slight power change, so I turned around to see what was going on “in front”. When I turned back, E.K. looked me right in the eye and said, “I can tell you are a pilot. Only a pilot would have heard that power change.” I wasn’t so sure I believed him, but it stuck with me.

Fast forward to the present. My car has been making some unusual sounds. Based on what I heard, I assumed there was a flat spot on one of the tires. And maybe something more, but couldn’t put my finger on it. The noise was driving me nuts. I asked my wife and son (both non-pilots) if it bothered them. They confessed to not hearing anything.

Soon thereafter, upon returning from a flight, I offered to drive a pilot buddy home. Halfway there, he commented about the noise the car was making. I told him I was sure it was a flat spot on the tire and was going to get it fixed. He thought it might be a bearing. I took the car in and wasn’t surprised when the mechanic called indicating the car needed two new tires and a wheel bearing. The noises are gone, but my interest remains. Was E.K. right? Are pilots somehow wired differently and more attuned with the world around them?

Certainly safe flight is dependent upon our connection with the environment (e.g. weather, performance of the airplane, etc). Pilots are trained to take note of those aspects, and be aware of changes. But it seems to go deeper than that. For example, when a pilot first walks out of a building, it is almost guaranteed he or she will look to the sky, undoubtedly assessing the ceiling, visibility, turbulence, etc. (an abbreviated personal weather briefing). It is nothing more than a quick glance, but a common ritual. I am no longer surprised when non-pilots ask what I am looking at. What is so natural to me, is deemed unnatural by non-pilots.

In the end, the reason for the connection is irrelevant. The important piece is that the connection is real. Our “Common Unity” is more than an emotional connection; it involves sharing similar traits and skills. It’s as if there is a powerful magnet pulling us together, and I believe this bond represents a key element in the drive to revitalize the pilot community.

Flying Clubs represent an outlet for pilots to come together and interact and celebrate this common bond. It also answers the question as to why Flying Clubs are so popular and successful. Wanting to leverage the power of Flying Clubs, and foster such bonds among the general aviation community, I have joined with three fellow  Flying Club members to form Ground Effect Advisors (http://www.startaflyingclub.com), an organization dedicated to the creation and advancement of Flying Clubs. Our primary mission is to share our experiences with others to help them “get off the ground” in starting and/or improving their own Flying Club. One of the tools we have created to help drive the success of a new flying club, is a scholarship which provides monetary support, products and services to help position the winning applicant for longer term success. Additional details can be found here.

It’s clear there is a substantial movement afoot to inject new life into general aviation. The sharing and collaboration is gratifying and points clearly to the potential offered by our common bond as aviators. We care about our passion. After all, we are sensitive types.