I wrote this while waiting for my flight. I'm not a writer. I just felt like sharing it.
It's 9:53 AM. I should be sitting on board a Boeing 737 listening to the same tired safety briefing I've heard countless times. Instead I'm seated in the fake leather seats in the terminal; unintentionally eavesdropping on the phone calls of 3 of my neighbors, staring not at the gleaming blue and red airliner but straight across the Tarmac at the stark white buildings of the Cessna aircraft factory.
Fellow travelers are likely tweeting complaints. "delayed 30 min, can you believe this? #flying sucks". "Can't believe I woke up so early, I could have slept in! #delayed". Others are fretting at the gate agent about the connection they will miss due to the airlines incompetence. The remainder are buried face deep in their phones and tablets, reading books, playing games, watching movies. This is just another day for them, another part of the routine. It's nothing special, flying, just a means to an end. A means to reach their destination where most of them will complain about the ride, the cramped seats, the crying children.
I don't fall into that category. As I stare at the freshly painted business jets waiting delivery to their new owners across the runway I'm simply pondering the marvel of it all. For me flying has never lost it's luster, it's never given up the romance it once had. If anything my experiences with aircraft have only served to further my awe at the whole thing.
Here I am waiting comfortably to take to the skies, and once I do it's only a 90 minute flight to Chicago. Google tells me that drive would take 14 hours. I've cut my travel time by nearly 90%, a privilege I purchased for about $250.
As I type the man sitting across from me tells his wife "ehhh I've been better, I'm stuck in Wichita. My flights been delayed, isn't it always?" I try to hide the smirk on my face. If only he knew why I was here, and the historical significance of it.
I'm traveling by air to Chicago to attend an airshow. This doesn't sound like anything special these days, but 100 years ago this would have been viewed as impossible. I likely would have been shunned from society for even suggesting this would be possible! Flying? To see airplanes fly?! FOR $250?! (Okay, in 1911 money that would be a lot. It's probably just a few dollars when adjusted for inflation)
In spring of 1911 Harold Fowler McCormick, inspired by news stories of early aviation a, decided to host an air meet in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. As August rolled around many famous aviators flocked to Chicago for a chance to win part of some $200,000 offered in prize money. On the opening day hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered on Michigan Avenue to watch 25 aircraft fly overhead. In today's world 25 airplanes aren't spectacular: few people would even notice them in the sky, but in August of 1911 this was the largest gathering of airplanes in history!
So now, 103 years later nearly to the day I'm flying to Chicago to see a show. Not unlike that famous air meet of 1911 the pinnacle of aviation technology will be on display, except this weekend that includes a plethora of aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier; a feat that wasn't accomplished for nearly 40 years after the 1911 meet. There will be an aircraft that can take off like a helicopter and cruise like a conventional aircraft: in 1911 the word 'helicopter' was still a good decade away from existing!
Another man nearby is complaining to his co worker about our 30 minute delay. All I can do is smile. I want to stand up and explain how incredible flying is, but I know it would fall unheard. 103 years ago I might have been considered a hero among the crowd at the air meet because I am an aerospace engineer, but today that fact is unnoticed. While the passengers around me shuffle to line up for boarding with sour faces, breathing sighs of relief as our aircraft finally pulls in to the gate, I walk towards the window with an unfazed grin because the reality of my situation is truly remarkable.
A mere century ago powered flight hardly existed. A mere century ago hundreds of thousands of spectators looked up in awe at the magnificent wood and cloth flying machines, wondering how their flight was even possible. And yet today, a mere century later, I'm joining millions of fellow passengers just going about their day just so I can go watch some airplanes flex their muscles in the same place that the then largest gathering of flying machines occurred a mere century ago.
Moments like this are why I love aviation so much. Next time you fly imagine those 25 airplanes over Chicago in 1911 and take a moment to realize that you aren't just traveling, you are achieving what was once considered impossible.