Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oshkosh and the dream

This is not about children's clothing. This is about dreams.

Why is it that right around the time of the Oshkosh airshow I start to get weepy? Not full on sobbing, but that kind of emotional welling up thing?

Right, it is because I'm reminded that for everything that is unnerving and wrong in the world, for all that things seem to degenerate into apathy or blunt self-service, dreams are still alive. Not a lot of them, and not a lot that succeed, but there are still a few out there.

So every year, a half million or so people who still have the dream (or one of them) turn out to an airport in Wisconsin to celebrate aviation, dreams, and community. They arrive by air, most of them, flying in aboard everything from restored Piper Cubs that followed freeways using road maps (I had a friend in college who did this with his dad -- a senior United Airlines captain -- for several years) to state of the art Gulfstreams. They camp out in the fields, in tents pitched underneath wings or fusualages (though probably that's more likely for the guys who flew in the Piper Cubs than the Gulfstreams).

3642-N642C-Oshkosh05.jpgThey come to shop -- all the big players will be there with hardware both new and established right alongside the dreamers who think they have a better (or just different) way of doing things. They come to look -- at P-51's with aluminum skin shining and gleaming in the sun, at F-22's cordoned off behind ropes, at Citation Mustangs that probably represent the mean upper bound of "I could do that" for most general aviation pilots, at thoroughbread Moonys and workman Cessnas and svelte Cirrusses. They come to mourne, with Steve Fosset and Lancair the most strongly missed this year, though the one will live on in timeless accomplishments and the other as an upmarket division of Cessna. They come to learn, some at seminars organized by volunteers and vendors where PowerPoint decks and simulations walk through the basics of operating that new Garmin (amazing how this startup is now nearly synonymous with aircraft navigation -- I guess some of the dreamers do make it) or advanced airmanship and recovery from unusual attitudes but most from the countless handwaving demonstrations going on around the flightline:

"So I'd gotten her slowed way too far down (as you can see from my hand being held figertips-high) and then she started to wallow (as you can see by my hand slaloming back and forth) and I still had to make the turn to final (as I now move my whole body to re-orient the demonstration)..."

But above all they come to dream and to live the dream. To, for just a week, stand in the company of those who love what they love, to envision and argue for a world that accepts aviation in a way it never again will, to shake hands with their heroes, to ogle their next dream jet, plan their next fly-in, to dine on brats and soothe sunburns.

And some of these dreamers take their visions and stake everything on the fulfillment of that dream. They found companies, launch crusades, and plan whole new eras of aviation and heroism. I sit here, in my office, a cynical product of The Large Corporation and, even more so, of the hard lessons of 2000 when many an ill conceived dream or scheme came to naught but some bad debt, and I wonder why they still do it. Perhaps one in ten of the brilliat ideas launched or announced at this year's Oshkosh will survive to the next great fly-in. Perhaps one in ten of those will successfully reach even the barest scratching definition of success. And perhaps one in ten of those will truly thrive and change the world -- and even then will they do it in the way forseen?

The folks at Garmin, a success story four paragraphs ago, admit that their consumer products do much to subsidize the aviation side of the house. The money, even for the manufacturer of the mighty G1000, is in putting your technology into Chevrolets and Nokias. Half a decade ago, Eclipse was going to change the universe. Today, their CEO is ousted and their customers sweating. Moony has declared bankruptcy more times than Liz Taylor has been married and is cutting back at the turndown point of another of the latest of their boom-bust cycles. Hard working dreamers founded the Rocket Racing League -- great idea, Long-EZ look-alikes soaring through the air blending NASCAR guts with the dream of some pulp science fiction writer's future. Elon Munsk builds rockets (OK, I'm deviating from Oshkosh here, but bear with me, I'm being emotional and I promise I'll get it back home eventually) hoping to simultaneouse revolutionize and undermine the established way of doing the space business. Just as did Kistler (in litigation), Roton (in litigation), and Orbital Sciences (successful but not revolutionary).

The linking idea is that all of these people share a dream -- and I am shocked to see how many continue to stake what they have on a dream. I fear the day that they trade in the dewar of liquid oxygen for the bottle of gin that seems, to me to, lie almost inevitably at the end of such a road. But they still do it. They attract investors and they find customers and some of them do make it. And every one of those rare successes brings more who are willing to take the risk. And for all my weepy impending-tragedy emotion, thak God that they keep coming.

Because they remind me why I keep a poster of a Citation Mustang (for I know my "I could do that" limits) next to my monitor and laptop at work and a shot of the 3rd green at Pacific Dunes as my desktop background. It reminds me of why I put this blog out into the ether hoping that someone reads it and learns or grows or enjoys. It reminds me of why I plan the second novel I will write (for this is a dream with a chance of fulfilment even lower that of success in the aerospace marketplace during a time of economic uncertainty!).

clark_plane.jpgThe dream is alive. All of the dreams are alive -- the fliers, the writers, the athletes, the musicians, everyone who casts aside the irritating and mundane bounds of conventionality and expectation and takes the chance. Wheter you pin everything you have or nothing more than than your own emotions on it, if you chase that dream then you are keeping the spirit alive.

At last, the lader, which had been built slowly, slowly, one hope at a time, reached up to the clouds. And the dreamer began to climb.

So to all of you at Oshkosh, those of you flying in in a restored T-34, those of you who putting down your deposit for a Cirrus Vision, those of you hawking a rain-repellant coating, those of you just there to see and touch and smell, thank you.

1 comment:

Dick said...

Pooh; Well said