Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport.
It’s a valid question: Can aviation change America? I don’t mean I’m curious to know if it can affect the relatively small percentage of the population that’s consistently involved in aviation on a regular basis. I mean, can aviation change America completely, permanently, and for the better?
I say, yes! In fact, I will go so far as to say it already has, and it will again. History tends to repeat itself, after all.
There will be naysayers, of course. There are always naysayers. I think there must be a special place that breeds them, they’re so consistent in their negative response to anything unconventional or unique. But I’m telling you the truth, and I can prove it.Allow me to introduce you to the Tuskegee Airmen, the WASPs, and Rosie the Riveter. If you take a mental journey back to anywhere in the United States around 1940, before the Tuskegee fellows made their mark on history, before the WASPs proved beyond a reasonable doubt that girls can fly pretty darned well, and before Rosie made it clear that a woman’s place was most definitely not in the kitchen – unless she chooses it to be (think Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray) – you would see a remarkably different place. At the risk of sounding unnecessarily negative I’ll describe it as a less than desirable place, too – where freedom was relative and restricted to a specific segment of the population, while simultaneously being denied to the remainder.
One of the great perks of my chosen line of work has been that I get to meet many of the remarkable people who helped push this country to new heights, by pushing themselves beyond the limits society placed on them and their peers. Next week I will be literally introducing people to Tuskegee Airmen as the moderator of the Legends and Legacies symposium series being hosted by Fantasy of Flight here in central Florida. Two weeks later I will be moderating a second event at the same site, featuring WASPs and Rosies.
It’s difficult to remain emotionally neutral while talking to these astounding men and women. Because while they did what they felt had to be done, they did it under circumstances that were hardly ideal. Consider the plight of the young men who were involved in flight training at the Tuskegee Institute in eastern Alabama. They had all the stress and strain and hardship that’s inherent to a highly focused military flight training program – but with the added distraction of knowing that visiting the nearby town could be emotionally and physically threatening – especially if a black cadet was unfortunate enough to be in town after nightfall.
Consider the plight of the adventurous young woman who felt as if she had what it takes to become a military pilot in the World War II years. Initially, her interest was scoffed at. It was only when the chips were down and male pilots were in short supply that these patriotic, highly motivated women were taken seriously. And just as the black pilots of the day had only one place to train in the entire country, female recruits found themselves headed to Sweetwater, Texas, if they wanted to fly for the military, and nowhere else.
The same shortages that brought opportunity to the Tuskegee cadets and the Sweetwater women, gave rise to Rosie the Riveter, a nick-name that describes countless women who picked up their tools, took their place on the assembly lines, and put their best effort into building the machines that went to war across the Atlantic and Pacific.
I’ve seen the evidence of Rosie’s work first hand. I once drilled the rivets out of the turtle deck that fairs a B-17 engine into the wing and found two graceful, loopy signatures underneath, still perfectly legible more than 50 years later. I have no idea where “Sue and Mary” worked, or what they are doing today. But they were driving rivets in the 1940s, and doing a darned good job of it from what I could see.
America has undeniably changed in the years since World War II, but it didn’t change easily, and it didn’t change by accident. America changed because social mavericks set out to prove themselves worthy based on their abilities, their potential, their work ethic, and their determination. Thankfully, they were more than up to the task. In fact, they proved themselves to be exceptional.
It is my good fortune to meet and talk to these men and women in the golden years of their lives. The lessons they taught us is not lost on me, and I hope it isn’t lost on the rest of the population, either. I don’t take their contributions lightly.
Some of their peers are not here any longer. Some were lost doing what they felt they had to do to make the most of their abilities for the benefit of their country. They sacrificed for us. They sacrificed so that I can lead the comfortable, relatively affluent, remarkably secure life that my family and I have enjoyed for the entirety of our lives.
You have to respect that level of service. You really do.
Will aviation change America? Yes it will, because it already has. The descendants of the men and women who proved their mettle under the harshest circumstances this country has ever offered up to anyone now have every right to revel in the accomplishments of the senior members of their families. And with that yardstick to measure up to, they will reach up, reach out, and grab hold of the biggest ambitions in life they can imagine. Many of them will reach those goals, too. Because aviation can change a man Ñ or a woman Ñ forever. And in doing so it can change the outlook of a family. The result of all that is a change in the way we all think, and act, and interact.
Yes, aviation will change America, and it will change it for the better. We can all be proud of that, even as we are a part of it.