This morning I am in Long Beach, California. Situated right on the water, it’s a major port as well as a great place to fly. I am here to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the first transcontinental flight. Cal Rodgers launched from Sheepshead Bay, New York, determined to cross the continent. It was no easy task. He suffered multiple crashes and serious injuries, and before all was said and done, he lost the sponsorship that had allowed him to undertake the flight.
But Long Beach leaders had the foresight to recognize that completing a transcontinental flight was important and could, some day, change the way we travel. They offered Rodgers, who was recovering from injuries suffered in one of his many crashes, $5,000 to complete his flight in Long Beach. And so he did, landing in the Pacific surf and making history.
I don’t know if Rodgers and the Long Beach leaders who helped him complete his dream could have imagined where we would be today, 100 years later.
Today flying across the continent, and even around the world, has become routine. Thanks to modern air travel, we can cross vast oceans, trackless deserts, and the tallest peaks without any of the dangers or hardships travelers have faced throughout human history.
If you are reading this, chances are you are a pilot, or at least have a strong interest in aviation. But for millions of Americans, aviation is something more abstract—and many of them have never even heard of “general aviation.”
But here’s an idea to keep in mind, and share with the non-pilots in your life. Even Americans who never set foot in an aircraft depend on general aviation. Anyone who has received an overnight package has benefited directly from our general aviation system. Law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical transport, traffic reporting, disaster relief, search-and-rescue operations…all of these things are made better and more efficient through the use of general aviation.
One hundred years ago, powered flight was brand new. There was no GPS to help you find your way; no weather services to help you avoid storms; and no air traffic controllers to monitor the skies. There weren’t even any airports. Back then, aviation was reserved exclusively for the most daring among us.
That is no longer true. In fact, today almost anyone can become a pilot. I have met individuals who learned to fly in their teens and others who learned in their 80s.
Learning to fly can be challenging and earning a pilot certificate is a big accomplishment. But you don’t have to be a genius to do it. You don’t have to be a math wiz. And you don’t have to be rich to be a pilot or own an airplane—in fact many wonderful, reliable airplanes can be had for less than the price of a new car.
And there’s something else everyone should know about flying, something that drove early aviators like Cal Rodgers, and something you can only fully experience when you are at the controls. FLYING IS FUN. Really fun! Taking off and climbing effortlessly above the Earth is one of the most joyful experiences you can have. The spirit soars and you are free.
Humankind has dreamed of flight since we first looked up and marveled at the birds. Today, the power of flight is within the grasp of each of us.
I encourage anyone who has ever dreamed of flying to take action.
Getting started is easy and AOPA can help with the tools and information you need. Visit our website at aopa.org. Then come to the airport, talk to pilots, and take an introductory flight. You’re sure to discover that the joy of taking flight is as powerful and transformative now as it was 100 years ago.