No Way ... 25 Years?

Can it really be that long? With this issue, the magazine (including the predecessor, FBO) completes 25 years. I have written for every issue, and take great pride in that fact. It’s the job of longest tenure for me, except for working for myself.

My first trip to Oshkosh was during the magazine’s second year. Before that I and others sold new Piper aircraft, and (to be quite honest) we rather looked down on homebuilts and kitplanes. The general aviation end of the industry was in the doldrums, due in no small part to a prime interest rate in the 20 percent range, product liability insurance costs, and a myriad of other unpleasant details.

GA was -— as far as I was concerned — dead as a doornail. Then the magazine sent me to Oshkosh for the big air show. I was dumbfounded. The EAA end of the business didn’t seem to know that GA was dead. Enthusiasm reigned among the home and kit builders. I remember wondering, “Are these folks onto something?”

Little did I know.

That end of the business has grown like blockbusters. Today, Cessna’s single-engine speed-demons come out of the old kit company, Lancair, a company for which I spoke at both Sun ‘N Fun and Oshkosh. Cirrus was another unknown that came out of nowhere and gave us airplanes that changed our world.

Another huge change that I watched was the growth of women in aviation, led or pushed along by the group Women in Aviation (WAI), with fireball Dr. Peggy Chabrian at the charge. The first WAI conference was held in 1990 in Prescott, AZ. Less than 100 attended, and that was all Peggy needed. At this year’s conference more than 3,000 attended, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the giants of aviation were there in the exhibit hall. WAI is a powerhouse.

I have spoken for WAI five times over those years, and the role of women in aviation is evident just by the exhibitors, the huge and growing number of attendees, and the jobs held down by those attendees. When I first started flying, women in aviation were usually stewardesses — no, young folks, not flight attendants, but stewardesses. Today, you might meet (and I have) the chief pilot of Coca-Cola, an astronaut or two, many airplane pilots, and a Blue Angels pilot among the membership. Awesome.

Another change has been the growing role of America’s airports, and the growing sophistication of airport managers. Airports are big business and very well run, thank you, by managers well versed in the business of business and even better versed in the special business of airports. Airports have come a long way, baby, and they ain’t stopped yet.

The days when cargo airplanes were Twin Beeches, airliners were DC-3s, training aircraft had tailwheels, and jets were mostly for the military were not that long ago in years; but oh, the progress that has occurred during those short decades. We can’t even imagine what it will be like 25 years from now.