Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot, 1998

Save The Dinosaurs

Wanna buy a Taylorcraft? As much as I hate to say it, my old buddy, Mert, is selling his. He has to. Not because he can't afford it. Nor because he doesn't have enough tailwheel students to keep it busy. He's selling it because he strapped-in with one too many students who didn't care as much about learning as he does about teaching. And believe me, Mert cares about teaching. However, trying to teach in a world that doesn't care simply wore him down. Unfortunately, Mert's strategic retreat says something about what is happening to many who are passionate about what they do.

Mert isn't any older than I am, but in an aeronautical sense, he is positively ancient. He has been immersed in aviation so long he has the "knowin'" that only comes from having been there for a long time. Aviation and education are so deeply ingrained in his make-up that they are integral parts of his emotions. And it is because of this emotional connection that he has to stop instructing. If he doesn't stop, then what he sees as an uncaring attitude on the part of students and many of those around him will pollute his own love of flying and flight instruction.

Part of Mert's problem is that he has a low tolerance for fools and those who willingly cut corners or don't push to get the details right. He'd send me these wonderfully articulate e-mails in which he'd be ranting on about his latest confrontation with the world in general and I could see what was happening: He was feeling as if the world he used to love was turning on him. A group of local instructors would, in fact, snicker at his insistence that his students' patterns be tight, the touch downs be on the numbers, the speed right, the ball centered. They saw him as a near-dinosaur, a stick-and-rudder throw-back. Worse, they let him know that.

What Mert is suffering is the increasingly common fate of being a specific-oriented person in an world that deals in approximations. Worse, he is a passionate man in an environment that too often views passion with suspicion.

My friend isn't alone in those traits or in this difficulty. I, for one, can definitely identify with his feelings. There is nothing worse than investing of yourself in teaching something, anything, and having students eye you with that silly grin which says, just because you think something is important doesn't mean it should also be important to them. Obviously, the preponderance of students absolutely want to learn and usually they make up for the others. But not always. Mert apparently hit a too-long streak of those who saw learning to fly as a take-it-or-leave-it alternative to golf. Their heart wasn't in it while Mert's was. Worse, fellow instructors who saw themselves as peers (they are kidding themselves) touted his detail-oriented efforts as being unnecessary in this day and age. That says more about them than him.

Fortunately, I have very little of the frustration Mert is feeling because the niche in which I instruct is so incredibly narrow, no one seeks me out unless they truly want to learn. Most come to me knowing it isn't going to be easy and that I have a specific style of instructing. My little airplane repels those who don't care and, as one of my students once said, "Everything about the airplane is subtle except the instructor."

I know a lot of folks like Mert. Another of my friends, who is also one of the two or three best pilots I've ever met, characterizes the general population by saying, "The world is full of idiots and they are all aiming at me." He, like so many others, rails at the world around him, constantly wondering how those people out there can possibly survive because they approach everything in life, from their flying to their table manners, in a lackadaisical manner. Another specific person trying to deal with an approximate world.

I hate to see Mert quit instructing. However, even teachers have a life and first, last, and always, a life has to be lived in a way that means something to its owner. That's a choice we all have to make. And Mert has made the right one. He is bailing out while his passion is intact. Still, when the application of your passion is the very thing that kills it, it's a tragedy because the world simply doesn't have enough passionate teachers. And as for being a dinosaur? Better believe he is! We're both dinosaurs and damn proud of it. BD