Around the Airport

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Is The FAA Secretly Funding Aircraft Museums?

There are two types of groups; those that are effective and those that are feel good.  To me, AOPA talks a good game but a little too often falls into the category of feel good.
Lobby groups serve a purpose, the purpose which is to serve the desires of their members.  The effectiveness of these groups therefore is, or should be, measured by how many membership goals the lobby is able to accomplish.  Agreed?  If so, and with that in mind, ask yourself what you believe members pay AOPA to do?
Did you ask yourself?  NO?  Hey, I was serious.  Take a minute, close your eyes, and ask yourself what AOPA’s job is, and the next sentence will be waiting for you when you are done.   OK, now that you have a few things in mind, ask yourself what you believe other AOPA members think AOPA is supposed to do for them.  Got some things in mind?  Great.
What did you come up with?  By any chance did grounding airplanes, removing valuable parts from the market, or celebrating people who do either of those make it on your list?  No?  Really?  Are you sure?
What about when you asked yourself about other AOPA members?  Did grounding planes, removing valuable parts from the market, or promoting the notion of doing so make your list?  No?  OK, I just wanted to make sure.
Like you, when I ask myself those questions, I get none of those answers.  So why then does AOPA have an article celebrating the grounding, via donation to the Smithsonian, of a vintage Fleet?  It boggles the mind why aviation continues to celebrate such things.
Locally we have one of the worst papers in the country; the Courier Journal.  A few years back that paper ran a story with a headline of “Plane Finally Grounded”.  It was the story of some older guy who labored to build this plane, then flew it for years, and finally gave it to some museum that was to never fly it again.  I remember thinking, while holding the paper, at least they’re honest about how they feel; finally, it’s grounded.   As if to say “it’s about time” or “thank God it’s no longer in the air”, the headline revealed the true beliefs of the author and paper.  It was also a story I never expected to see in AOPA, or for that matter, or any other aviation magazine.  I guess I was wrong.
Here’s the link to the AOPA online article.  Feel free to read it.  Sadly, I’m sure many people will think this is a wonderful story but I want you to read it anyway.  Then we can discuss why I believe this type of story should not only be banned from AOPA but it should create scorn from anyone who loves aviation.
Did you read it?  Wasn’t it a wonderful heartfelt story about some older guy and his plane?  Not really.  In fact, the article is so full of illogical statements and head scratching notions that I wonder how you could write such an article and not be compelled to ask the people making them how any of it is supposed to make sense.  But worse, AOPA feels this story somehow promotes aviation which is what most of you, I am guessing, thought AOPA is supposed to be doing for members.
Let’s look it over.  The lead subject of the article is Mr. Breiner who is portrayed as a guy who overcame obstacles and let nothing stand in his way to earn his pilot’s certificate.  Mr. Breiner obviously went to great lengths to tell his story and how the aircraft, a vintage Fleet biplane, connected him to an exciting time in aviation.  He also stated that it was getting harder to maintain and fly these planes.  Then, after all that, what does he do with it?  Well, he gives it to the Smithsonian where the difficult to find engine parts will no longer be available to others who are trying to keep their planes in the air.  Furthermore, hanging there among all the other corpses, the plane will no longer be available for young folks to learn to fly or work on, and one less opportunity for another person to overcome obstacles and connect to “an exciting time in aviation” will exist.  Does that make sense?  Consider this; if the owner previous to Mr. Breiner had given the plane to the Smithsonian, would Mr. Breiner have this story to tell???
I don’t know how people like Mr. Breiner end up convincing themselves these decisions make sense.  Whatever it is it’s powerful.  How else can you explain a person doing something that goes against everything they claim to be and believe?  There are some good suspects though.  An article in AOPA is one of them.
There's no doubt, on the surface the story almost sounds great.  The printed word is powerful.  Yet, as I have to point again, another plane is grounded, parts are no longer available, and the plane is off limits to people.  With the ongoing willingness of aviation groups and magazines to promote such notions, it's no wonder we have folks like Mr. Breiner lamenting “There’s fewer of us around that understand the old airplanes” and believing the parking of a vintage aircraft is the solution.
Do I believe it is Mr. Breiner’s right to give the plane away?  Yes, of course I do.  But do I think it is wrong?  Yes, of course I do.  Were Mr. Breiner to say “I just want to create a memorial to myself” this terrible decision would be a little easier to swallow.  But even then, if you want to build a memorial to yourself, does it not make sense to ensure the rare parts needed to keep others in the air would be held back and sold or given to those who still have it in them to keep the plane in the air?  Wasn’t that what Mr. Breiner worked so hard to do all those years ago?  Now that he’s had his fun though, I guess it's ok.  I mean, after all, he is permanently grounding it in the interest of history right?
According to his daughter Joyce, “It’ll be able to be exposed to the most people possible.   That’s what I hope is part of my dad’s legacy.”  Ah there it is, a legacy; it always seems to sneak in there somewhere.  Sadly, Mr. Breiner’s daughter seems to have the words exposed and inspired confused, although she is correct about which will happen.
In the Smithsonian many people are visually “exposed” to aircraft bones that are off limits.  But, out in the sun and alive in the hands of a pilot, people are “inspired”.  When and if I ever find myself with a great vintage plane in the hangar and physically too old to fly I hope my family understands the difference.  If not, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
I wonder, do you suppose Mr. Breiner or his daughter ever considered the idea of selling the airplane?  What about parting it out?  How many other Fleets or vintage aircraft could have been put into the air by grounding his plane in a way other than sequestration?  I guess we’ll never know.
Instead of selling or auctioning off the engine to people who may need some of those difficult to find parts, this Fleet and the airworthy powerplant parts will be useless to everyone and seen by no one.  While some young guy sits at his computer every night looking for a wing panel or hard to find fittings, good ones will be hanging out of reach in the Smithsonian.  And yet, it is implied this was done to preserve history.
Don’t get me wrong.  The Breiners are not evil people.  They are merely the most recent, in a long line of aviation families, to have fallen prey to failed logic.  Unfortunately, with each successive “historical donation” the bar is lowered.  In this case, serving at Roosevelt Field supposedly makes their Fleet ,worth grounding forever.
For people who would love nothing more than to ground every old plane, this donation may have provided the excuse.  The Breiners may not be the first but their donation does seems to qualify anything as historical.  I mean, come on; serving at Roosevelt Field makes it something that should be forever removed from the hands of mankind?  Really?
Would you kill an endangered animal and mount its head on the wall in the name of preservation?
Anyone with a knowledge of vintage aircraft knows there isn’t a single plane from that era without something interesting in its history.  Whether it be that “Roscoe Turner smoked a cigarette and had his picture made by this plane, that airplane was landed at an airport used by airmail pilots, or this airframe was once flown by Louis Thadden”, apparently anything now counts.  And so, let’s just park them all.   After all, wouldn’t it be a tragic loss for our country if the first plane to land at Smith Field, on Christmas day, of 1934, were to remain in the hands of someone who would do with it the most unthinkable thing; fly?  Oh the humanity.  Ironically though, that philosophical standing actually takes away from the planes that truly are historical.  If every plane is famous, none of them are.  Sorry to burst your bubble.
Oh, about that headline, “Is the FAA Secretly Funding Aircraft Museums?”   When these museums that claim to love aviation have become so terribly good at permanently grounding airworthy aircraft and removing the critical parts from the market, you do have to wonder about it don't you?  Sure, AOPA Pilot and the other aviation publications may run these misguided, quasi "ground a vintage" articles, yet without shame the FAA openly fantasizes about such things.

Click here and read the caption.  Sad.

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A note to AOPA:  Other magazines can print these half-wit articles and get by with it because they are not a lobby group.  You on the other hand are and it appears some of you do not  understand the power of your publication.  Every word, every article, and every photo must always be perfectly measured to ensure a pro-aviation message is constantly on display.      Members expect this.  So, with that in mind, I hope you'll accept this small suggestion.  Permanently grounding airplanes does not promote aviation.  If your editor and authors don't understand that, find new ones.

1 comment:

Suz said...

Rich,
Can I contact you in some way? As president of a FLYING museum, we are being squeezed by the county who uses the FAA as the reason. I am in the fight for the museums life. Our county loves museums that you can go and stare at, or maybe poke and push a few buttons.

Our museum is a working hangar and you meet mechanics and pilots and you can sometimes see the planes leave and watch the active runway from our back door. And they are comparing us to a plain old history museum or the art museum and declare we are not worthy of the same support or that the FAA requires fair
market rent for us, which is a bundle.

I believe that the GA airports are being so pressured to put $$$ in the the local government coffers that living and breathing aviation museums simply return to housing nonliving planes because of costs and the fact they can do it anywhere.

I don't like that and thus, I am fighting to keep our museum alive. Aviation is not about a pile of parts and nor is history revelant if doesn't come to life in your eyes.

Suzette
Wings Over Miami

Suzette