When did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?
My passion for all things airplane runs pretty deep. It was cultivated at a very early age as I was fortunate enough to be a kid in the Antelope Valley of Southern California, a place well steeped in aviation history. My mother has joked that my first word(s) was, “hocks and peas”. In my case, sadly, it wasn’t a hearty pork dish but toddler-speak for “helicopters and planes”. I had it bad. I could identify particular aircraft types in the sky before I could utter sentences. When I went to school, lunchtime on the playground meant the SR71 Blackbird with T-38 chase-plane in tow performing seemingly endless touch-and-go’s, Lockheed L-10-11’s, KC135 tankers, and at the very least a P3-C Orion or C-130 Hercules. Most of my friend’s parents were employees of big aviation names like Lockheed, Northrop, and McDonnell-Douglas. Those who weren’t parents’ worked at Edwards Air Force Base.
The whole town came out to see all the completed Space Shuttles be rolled down 10th Street East (now called Challenger Way) for the twenty or so mile trek to Edwards AFB before they were loaded onto the back of the 747 for transport to Florida. I remember kids cheering in the playground when the B-1 Bomber flew over because their dad worked on it. School was released and everyone filed outside to see the maiden flight of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. My friends went to Joe Walker Middle School. Pete Knight was the mayor. Sonic booms were an everyday occurrence, and kids knew where to look in the sky after the familiar “double-boom” to catch a glimpse of the Space Shuttle returning to earth. (Remember when the Space Shuttle still landed in California?)
Speaking of California, it has been burning as long as I can remember, and I loved it because it meant the “borate bombers” would be flying. Where else would a kid born in the era or turbofans be able to see vintage DC4’s, DC7’s and Electra’s thundering over, insanely close to the ground with nary an angle-of-attack due to their soupy payload? One has not lived until they have felt the symphony of four piston driven engines stirring their senses. I am a big sucker for the music of (two is good – four is just gluttony) RB211-535’s spooling up, but trust me that is like Rachmaninoff versus Bjork; both amazing, but no comparison.
Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?
Aviation has so many heroes, and I am not sure I can narrow it down to one. So here is an answer a bit more fun: I am going to go with Pancho Barnes. Florence “Pancho” Barnes was a larger than life character of the early days of aviation who certainly deserves better than the 1980’s something made-for-TV-movie about her starring Valerie Bertinelli. I’ll let you wiki her for the whole story. She’s cool to me because of the stories my parents told me about her when I was a kid. In addition to her aviation pursuits, she ran a fly-in ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that may or may-not have been a house of ill-repute. (Google – Happy Bottom Riding Club) Another favorite Pancho Barnes story comes from my mother, who remembers her (and her Chihuahuas) as a client of the veterinary clinic where she worked. Apparently, she died alone and was discovered by her son weeks later…and the Chihuahuas were not hungry. Yes…ewww, I know, but it goes along with the whole larger than life thing.
In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?
I truly think the symptoms of prophead can be variable. In my case it means being able to hear what kind of aircraft is flying over simply by the sound of the engines. It could be plane-spotting while bird-watching with my mother-in-law… Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Kiskadee, Qantas Boeing 747-400... and then cross referencing them with a Sibley’s Guide to North American Birds and FlightAware (it was QF 107 on the LAX-JFK leg of the trip!) when I am back home. It could be having to explain the bookmark in my browser labeled “airplane porn” is just airliners.net and not something lascivious.
Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?
I’ve tried in vain I’m afraid to make those closest to me propheads, to no avail. When you point to an ATR (honestly the ugliest thing in the sky) and ask, “What is that?” and they reply, “an MD-80” you should recognize that perhaps your prophead teachings have fallen on deaf ears. I also think the airport code game is honestly just as fun as punch-buggy or I spy on car trips as well.
On a serious note, I wish more people would be a little more avgeek. Air-transport is a resource so often taken for granted and it pains me to live in a world where so many do not understand just how much went into getting that plane off the ground. I fear we (the flying public) are heading down a pretty dark path unless we shed some light on the issues the industry as a whole faces.
What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today, in your opinion?
Honestly, I think a lot of what plagues the aviation industry today is not often addressed. Of course crude prices, labor relations, and the fact that bankruptcy equals “passing go and collecting $200 bucks” are huge issues, but what about technology? Why have we slowed to a snail’s pace? We’re moving much too slowly on the development of alternative sources of fuel. The entire of spirit of aviation was hinged on discovery and innovation, but we’ve got problems when innovation means repackaging and repainting.
I think a lot of the same issues face the space industry as well. We’ve been to the moon and I am lost without my iPhone, but I fly to California on an airframe design that was engineered when John, Paul, George, and Ringo were on tour? Sure we can put new engines on the A320, but can’t we do better than that. I know it’s a lot more complicated than my juvenile simplification of the issue, and I certainly understand why the 737 NG is not your father’s 737 classic…but I feel like we can do better.
Take flight; share something about yourself that you don't think was covered in these questions...
One last thing: I prefer the window seat. The aisle is great, but the window is better. I am so fortunate to be able to fly as often as I do, and I never get sick of looking out the window. Flight is still an absolutely divine concept to me. Combustion and propulsion versus gravity - such angry, violent forces, yet these combined lifts man to profound heights and gives him the power to see how small (or how large) our influence is on our environment. The amazing things I have seen from the window seat; the indescribable blue of the submerged portion of an iceberg, the sun rise twice in the same day, all of the Grand Canyon at once from 40,000 feet. For those of you who prefer the aisle seat, this is what you’re missing. Yes…you may be three deep when you have to use the lav, but trust me on this one. This is our equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.
Which seat do you prefer on when flying? I'm with Brett on this one, nothing beats the window seat! If you already know Brett, what did you find most fascinating about his interview?
Do you want to participate in the #avgeek interviews? Contact me @airport_girl for more info!