Tuesday, February 8, 2011

#Avgeek Abundance - Flight #7

Today's entry in the blog series is an interview with JL Johnson. He self descries as a Business Analyst whose an info sponge. He enjoys documentaries, science, tech, travel, nature, airliners, photog and NPR. I've not yet had the privilege of meeting JL in person, but great enjoy our twitter conversations on all things aviation. Already acquainted with JL? Than maybe you'll learn a few new tidbits, or if you don't know him, allow me to introduce him:

When did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?
Ever since I can remember I've been interested in planes and aviation. I believe my first exposure to aviation was via stories told to me by my Grandfather, a retired USAF Colonel. There are however a few key events that stick out as catalysts for my earnest curiosity.

When I was a very young child my mother worked at the Deer Valley Airport in Northern Phoenix, AZ. Every now and then I would visit her and we would watch planes taxi about. In those days there was a distinct military presence on the field, I remember how the fighter jets would vibrate the windows of the building to the extent that I was sure they would come crashing down on us.

Just a week before my 10th birthday I flew as an unaccompanied minor from OKC to RIC. I distinctly remember the captain calling me to the flight deck twice, once before takeoff and again while in flight. Each time the captain briefly dismissed the co-pilot out and gave me his seat, perhaps just long enough for the co-pilot to visit the lavatory. On that trip I was awarded my wings, a memento I have to this day. That experience was awe-inspiring, something that I wish more airlines continued today.

My interest in aviation continued over the years but without a community or any mentors to fuel my interest it was just that, an interest. Looking back I view my interest more as a pilot light waiting for the fuel that only a community could deliver, something that could evolve my interest into a true passion.

One evening in the summer of 2009 I prematurely exited one of Kansas City International's economy parking blue buses. This single mishap was the catalyst for what ultimately became my passion for aviation. I had no idea where my car was so I leisurely strolled up and down each section looking for my car. I quickly noticed that every three or four minutes a plane would fly very close overhead on descent to land on a nearby runway. It occurred to me that with planes this close to a public area I could take some pretty great pictures. That evening I became what I later learned the aviation community refers to as a planespotter, or plane spotter if you aren't a fan of portmanteaus, as I am.

Shortly after my first true planespotting experience I found planespotter.org, and then @tailnumbers, a twitter account that tweeted (floods) of aviation information. From @tailnumber's re-tweets I found other aviation enthusiasts, and from them even more. I eventually stumbled upon the #avgeek hashtag, and suddenly had a community of like-minded individuals to feed off of. I've since unfollowed @tailnumbers due to the tweet floods but my circle of aviation gurus and enthusiasts continues to grow. Twitter I would say has been the single biggest contributor to the massive expansion of my aviation knowledge and like minded contacts.

Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?
I can't think of any single hero. The men and women who fly for our military and those who support the business crucial commercial and private aviation industries are my everyday heroes. If I had to choose a single individual it would likely be one of the fathers of US aviation: Howard Hughes, James McDonnell, Bill Boeing or Donald Douglas.

In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?
There are so many versions of avgeeks. You've got insiders, outsiders, spotters and pilots, historians, futurists, commentators, generalists and even artists. The number of subcategories is just mind boggling. That is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about our unique community: While we are all interested in the same general topic there are so many different subcategories that one can delve into. Perhaps I'm being a bit too sentimental but I would venture to say that anyone can find a piece of aviation that interests them.

Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?
I'm particularly interested in planespotting and recommend that everyone spend time at planespotting parks or areas where they can watch aircraft come and go. I recently visited a planespotting park in Houston where over the hours I witnessed over a dozen families stop by and watch the planes pass overhead. Taking children and young adults planespotting is an opportunity to inspire them, to get them interested in science, math, physics and technology. And, quite frankly it exposes them to one of the few growing industries with workers whose jobs aren't easily exported.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today, in your opinion?
I believe the single greatest threat to the future of aviation as we know it is the volatility of fuel prices. The greatest threat to the planespotting community is the increasingly hostile stance that various law enforcement and security personnel take towards enthusiasts in possession of cameras. It is my hope that as the enthusiast community grows, industry leaders and insiders will understand that aviation enthusiasts are not a threat... If anything, we add to security as we are additional sets of eyes on and around the aerodome. Any enthusiast would certainly report anything suspicious or threatening to the industry and properties we so dearly love and admire.

Take flight, share something about yourself that you don't think was covered in these questions...
I think I've shared too much already :-)

Do you agree with JL that finding even just one aircraft that interests you makes you an avgeek? Or, is it a more vetted process to achieve avgeekdom? What challenges do you see facing the plane spotting community?

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