As I watched the cursor blink and silently bemoaned my painfully blank imagination on a topic for this column, I heard the distinctive mechanical music that heralds the arrival of the ice cream truck. And what should come up on its familiar playlist but a melody that suddenly summed it all up: It’s a Small World After All.
The Sherman brothers, who wrote the song for Walt Disney in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, probably never thought of its applicability to aviation. Even so, their simple lyrics deftly articulate some of the ideas behind our international focus in this issue. Although our theme is “Small Airplane, Big World,” the process of discussing, writing, and editing the articles contained in these pages has made me realize all over again how even the smallest airplanes have a magical ability to make our big world seem smaller, cozier, and friendlier.
Bridging the Physical Distance
Though the mountains divide, and the oceans are wide, it’s a small, small world…
I’ll never forget the first time an airliner – a Pan Am 747 Clipper – carried me across the Atlantic Ocean from JFK to Heathrow. What an amazing thing it was to board this behemoth, ride for a few hours through the darkness, and land in London – a whole new world to me – just as dawn was breaking. In subsequent years I have found myself on much longer flights that have taken me a lot farther and wider than New York to London. But I have never lost the sense of wonder, amazement, and awe to experience an airplane’s ability to bridge in mere hours distances that once required many months, plus a lot more hazards than the inconvenience of limited legroom or misrouted luggage.
It’s not just international travel that showcases the airplane’s ability to bridge physical distance. To offer just a few personal examples: Airplanes enable frequent visits to Arizona, my future home state and favorite habitat for writing and specialty flying. The six-hour driving distance from northern Virginia to coastal North Carolina shrinks to two hours of flying time in my club’s Cessna 182 Skylane, a fact that amazed and delighted family members I was ferrying northward for a brief visit. As I watched them point excitedly to landmarks they didn’t expect to see quite so soon, it occurred to me that airplanes perform an amazing magic trick: they greatly expand the viewable distance while at the same time greatly reducing the time and mileage required for almost any journey.
Bridging the Cultural Distance
There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all…
I often joke that I speak fluent “Airplane” in addition to a couple of more conventional languages, and it’s true that I’ve managed to master aviation’s technical jargon in my two decades of flying. But the language of Airplane is a lot more than just technical terms and official phraseology. Richard Bach, my all-time favorite aviation author, captured it best in a Gift of Wings essay called “Why You Need An Airplane and How to Get It:”
(T)here is a kind of principle of the sky, a spirit of flight that calls to certain among mankind as the wilderness calls to some and the sea to others.
If you are such a person, no doubt you’ve noticed and, I hope, enjoyed the instant bond that “airplane people” have with each other. Ours is a connection that transcends and bridges differences in language, culture, and national origin. Those who share a passion for flight also enjoy the shared culture of aviation. It is one that boasts its own language, morals, heroes, and rich traditions.
There is indeed so much that we share and it is my hope we all remain aware of, and feel blessed by, the way small airplanes can help us make the most of our time in this big world. (FAA Safety Briefing – NovDec 2012