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Raw DS Article: Annual Airplane Geek Memoir

September 27, 2010

14 years ago, my parents created a monster. Some might argue, however, that the
monster was created 24 years and 8 ½ months before that. In either case, 14 years
ago, this now-24 year old man, then recently-turned 10 year old boy first took to
the skies in a Cessna 172. After that point, I was a hardened airplane geek and there
was no turning back.

I’ve always been a fan of aviation and airplanes. My 6th birthday party was held
at the old Stapleton International Airport in Denver. My friends and I got to visit
the control tower and climb aboard a Continental Airlines 737. One of the best
photos of my childhood is from the cockpit on that airplane. In some measure
of foreshadowing, there was a photo taken of me in the First Class section of the
airplane…something I’ve done on Continental a few times since then.

Early morning, September 25, 2002: I’m winging my way around the traffic pattern
in another Cessna 172 at Centennial Airport in suburban Denver. Unlike that time in
1996, there’s no one else in the airplane with me. I’ve managed to solo an airplane
before even having a driver’s license in my pocket. My Airplane Geekdom is further
cemented.

Fans of aviation are a unique kind of group. We can spend hours upon hours talking
and arguing about all things ranging from regulations to aerodynamics, economics
to teaching methods. What sets us apart from, say, stamp collectors, is an unyielding
drive to learn more, experience more, and to tell more stories. Our use of jargon
parallels even the most educated group of doctors. Relationships with one another
in similar groups tend to be competitive, yet highly supportive at the same time. We
always want to have the better story compared to someone else, landing shorter,
flying faster, or experiencing more malfunctions than our friends. At the same time,
milestones are celebrated with a sense of relief and sympathy having been there
before.

Airplane geeks have a propensity toward keeping their eyes focused skyward, able
to identify airplanes based on sight, and if experienced enough, sound. We relish
visiting airports and “plane spotting.” My computer’s hard drive is clogged with
thousands of photos taken at airports around the world, of things as unique as the
Concorde and as banal as a UND Cessna 172.

Since that first launch airborne 14 years ago, I’ve come to build a community of
fellow aviation fans around the world. Never would my family have imagined their
son having a 400 card strong safety card collection, flying from Minnesota to Maine
in a small airplane, or being a two-time guest on the Airplane Geeks podcast, an
official ode to the condition he suffered from. Without their support, none of this
would have been possible.

Support for airplane-geekery is hugely important as we geeks hope to expand our
ranks. Unfortunately, we have a lot going against our cause. The FAA predicts that
new pilot certifications will drop in the next 20 years before rising again. Congress
recently passed new rules that make becoming an airline pilot (most geeks want to
reach the airlines one day) much more difficult. Flying is expensive, and in this down
economy it can be difficult to afford. Programs like UND’s Aerospace Camp help
build support amongst high schoolers, however, the camp is not what it was when I
attended in 2001 and 2002.

There are lights on the horizon, however. Light Sport airplanes have made flying
cheaper and more accessible to the general public. Aviation organizations like AOPA
and EAA are expanding recruitment programs. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and
many other social networking sites, even the most amateur airplane geek can now
connect to thousands of others around the world.

Airplane geeks: it’s time to expand our ranks! Tell your friends! Take them flying!
Let them experience the magic and wonder of flight, particularly from the front seat
of a Cessna. It’s so much different, and much better, than row 38 on a Delta 757.

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