The Real Answer to General Aviation Renaissance

Brian Martinez and Bob Waldmiller

Originally published October 1994

President's Corner:

So what kind of trouble have we gotten into this month? started it! All we did was try and set the record straight before they confused everybody-I mean who knows more about general aviation; a contributing editor for an engineering magazine or us? We do, of course! And that's why when your Vice-President read an article in October's Aerospace Ameria, the AIAA's premier publication, about how NASA's R&D efforts were fundamental to the survival of general aviation, he thought it strange that the contributions from the EAA were not even mentioned. Between the two of us, the following letter to the AIAA resulted:

5 October 1994

Aerospace America
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
370 L'Enfant Promenade, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20024

To the editor:

The recent article by Jeffrey Ethell, "NASA's Blueprint for a General Aviation Renaissance (October 1994), points out some valuable contributions which may indeed prove beneficial and saving to a forgotten and generally maligned sector of aviation. The perspective of this article, however, might give the reader the false impression that it was NASA, or at least private industry, who devised the strategy and sought integration of evolving technologies as the savior for general aviation. Nothing could be further from the truth. NASA was early to abandon general aviation in favor of supersonics, space technology, and other avenues for big ticket R&D funding. Private industry eventually left the "bug smashers" behind in favor of the more lucrative business aircraft market. And of those companies which still produce certified light aircraft, none have bothered to advance the technological state of their aircraft much beyond installing better radios.

So who is really responsible for the survival of the small aircraft? Who is responsible for evolving new and simpler concepts for individual and family transportation? We submit that the saviors are the same people who first got aviation off the ground in this country in the first place. They are individuals working in their garages and hangars. They are enlightened minds pondering over sketches on napkins and computer terminals. Some are engineers like us, but most are not. Many times they use government furnished data that their tax dollars paid for; but more often than not their ideas come from their awareness of what is happening in the automotive, boating, computer, and numerous other evolving industries. They are the doers, the people who apply technology instead of mearly studying it.

These people are best known as the designers and builders of experimental amateur-built aircraft or homebuilts. They tossed aside the government bureaucracy which surrounds the owning and operating of certified aircraft in favor of designing, building, and flying their own high-performance and/or low cost aircraft--an aspect of general aviation made possible in 1949 when the government stepped out of the way and granted people the freedom to legally do this provided the aircraft are not operated for hire. They even dispensed the with the hassle and expense of having a certified mechanic maintain their aircraft and instead do the work themselves. They strive for the highest performance per dollar invested or the lowest operating cost. They take on ambitious projects such as developing alternative powerplants based on automotive conversions and they are among the first airplane builders to incorporate high tech composites and natural laminar flow in their aircraft. They designed spin-proof airplanes and they squeezed every bit of performance out of their machines. In fact, if you look in the current FAI World and United States Aviation and Space Records, in the C-l.A/O, C-1.A, and C-1.B categories (where small general aviation airplanes are classified) you'll find that all but one of the United States' records are now held by experimental amateur-built aircraft!

In short, homebuilders have kept general aviation alive when everyone else bailed out--and they paid for it with their own money. They backed the cause for liability reform and fought for a simplified certification process. They set new standards for performance by innovating and applying current technologies and they intend to keep general aviation on the technological leading edge. These people...WE...are the true-believers in general aviation and we've been living the dream outlined in NASA's so called blueprint since 1949! So, next time you do an article about a renaissance in general aviation, don't make it an appeal to the high level managers and bureaucracy that created the problem in the first place. Instead, let's credit the experimenters, the amateur designers, kitbuilders, and pilots for bootstrapping the effort and nagging their legislators into voting a proper course.


Brian M. Martinez
EAA Chapter 1000

Robert J. Waldmilter
EAA Chapter 1000

So there you have it-take credit for your own work, keep your standards high, and remember that the future of general aviation steps forward with each homebuilt completion! Time for me to get back to work on mine so I'll see ya at the meeting!

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Contents of The Leading Edge and these web pages are the viewpoints of the authors. No claim is made and no liability is assumed, expressed or implied as to the technical accuracy or safety of the material presented. The viewpoints expressed are not necessarily those of Chapter 1000 or the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Revised -- 22 February 1997