Clio Shouts About the Future of the Past

by Raul Blacksten

This "Clio Whispers" column appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of the Vintage Sailplane Association newsletter Bungee Cord.

I have written about how sometimes Clio, the ancient Greek Muse of History, whispers in my ear and how sometimes she shouts. Lately, she has been shouting. My ears reverberate with the sounds of the ages. What Clio has been yelling about is that without a future, there can be no history.

Therefore, this column is going to be a bit of a departure from about which I usually write. Usually, as you know, I write about the past. Sometimes I write about the VSA Archives. Often I write about the Oral History Project. This time I am going to write about the future.

Let me preface this discussion by telling you why Clio has come to yell at me at this point in time. In the February 1996 issue of AOPA Pilot is a report about FAA surveys and what the FAA does with them. From the 1993 survey, the FAA determined that there were only 1050 aircraft in this country which do not have electrical systems. Therefore, according to the FAA, there will not be many people effected when they require Mode C transponders for all VFR flight over 6000 feet in altitude (the article does not mention if that is AGL or MSL). Am I alone in seeing what this foreshadows for soaring in general and vintage soaring in particular?

This is just one of several reasons why I want to discuss the future.

Those of us who fly full-scale gliders practice an art which many consider to be anachronistic. Certainly those of us who own and fly vintage gliders practice our anachronism with pride. Yet it is because others have these feelings about soaring that we, glider pilots and owners, must be ever vigilant, and this vigilance takes many forms.

The obvious form which this vigilance takes is to know what is going on. Keeping our ears to the ground and responding when we perceive a problem like the FAA survey mentioned above. If we remain silent, they will do anything that they want and we will have no one to blame but ourselves when we can no longer fly our gliders.

Perhaps a less obvious form of vigilance involves taking our future in our own hands. How can we do this? It is simple. It takes effort. It is inconvenient. It is extremely important if we are going to survive.

At the International Vintage Sailplane Meet (IVSM) last summer, I met a role model for all of us. This was someone who described herself as a soaring evangelist. Marita Jean Rea says that if she is not working or flying, she is advocating soaring. Marita tells anyone who has an interest in flying that they should try soaring. She has even participated in the SSA/EAA Young Eagle Program.

How many times have we sat around a pizza and groused that soaring is dying because we cannot attract "the youth" into soaring. My question is, how do we know? How many of us have tried?

Times are different today. Kids just do not hang around airports any more. They hang at the mall and in the video arcades. Why? It is simple. There are just too many things to entertain us today which do not require much effort. Also, in many parts of the country, airports just are not within bicycle distance anymore. Where I live, the nearest gliderport is 85 miles away and the nearest General Aviation (GA) airport is nearly 15 miles away in a rough neighborhood. How many urban GA airports are in good neighborhoods? Not many, I expect.

We are all going to have to be like Marita Rea. Talk up soaring among our friends, acquaintances, and their children. Take them soaring. Better yet, sign up to take part in the Young Eagle Program too. It is going to be inconvenient, but from where else are the future glider pilots going to come?

What is the Young Eagle Program? It is where you offer to take a young person between the age of 8 and 17 for a ride in a glider, in our case. If you can do it in a vintage glider, so much the better. Still, there is more to it than that. By volunteering for the SSA Young Eagles, you are going to be introducing potential glider pilots to the wonders of aviation in general and soaring in particular. Part of the Young Eagles Program's mission is to assist these young people "to see and understand--as through the eyes of an eagle--that the true potential of life lies beyond everyday surroundings and may be reached through pursuit of high personal goals." For information on the Young Eagle Program, contact either the SSA or the EAA.

Another thing we can do is to go to airshows. How many years has Jan Scott taken his Minimoa to Oshkosh and had one of only a handful of gliders? How many of us, like Mike Campbell, take our vintage gliders, a Pratt-Read in his case, and fly exhibitions?

I took my first glider to be a static display at an airshow in 1988. Thanks to Wayne Spani's connections, we here in So. Calif. are preparing to have our 3rd El Toro MAS Airshow booth where we display our vintage gliders and answer questions. Wayne has even gotten us invited to the first two Endless Horizons R/C Hobby Expo Conventions where we had a free booth in which we could display a full-size vintage or classic glider.

Then too, how many of us have thought of displaying a full-size glider at a R/C model sailplane meet? Last December's DUST/SULA Meet at Cal. St. Univ. at Dominguez Hills saw 3 VSA classic gliders. How many of you came into soaring from the R/C world?

Another avenue which we usually do not think about is the local mall. In order to attract customers, malls often have shows. You know, paintings, antique cars, and the like. Why not get together with your club or other VSA members in the area and talk to your local mall about the possibility of having a glider show for a week each year?

No matter which of these things you decide to do, did you know that the SSA will send you free materials to distribute at your airshow, model show, or model fly-in? In 1988, among other things, the SSA sent me 500 free issues of Soaring magazine to give out. The VSA even has full color brochures. You can even order a large quantity of the VSA trading cards with your glider on them and give them out to the kids who come to these events. Shoot, you could just give them out willy nilly. Great advertising!

What, you many ask, does all of this have to do with the history of soaring? What does it have to do with the VSA Archives? Why would Clio be concerned?

Unless we do something soon, there will be nothing of which to keep the history. Steam locomotives may have been pushed aside by diesel locomotives, but steamers still ply the rails of this and other countries as a sort of anachronistic celebration. They can do this because the tracks are still there. Antique cars can still be driven on the streets and highways.

What are we going to do when the very air is prohibited to us? We have no where else to practice our art, soaring--which, by the way, is not an anachronism.

What is going to happen when we are too old to fly our gliders and there are no young people to take our places? No one to love, care for, and fly our beautifully restored gliders? No one to appreciate our history? No one for Clio to pester.

Soaring is under attack from many directions, not just from the FAA. Unless we are vigilant we will be giving it away. The FAA will take it. We will die out. We will be letting others determine what happens to us. Vigilance takes effort. No one is going to give us anything. We must be willing to inconvenience ourselves a little--and it only needs to be a little.

In the mean time, do not neglect your oral histories. If soaring disappears in this country, at least there will be something which can let people know about you. Who knows, maybe something in your oral history will encourage someone to take up the cause.

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Raul Blacksten
PO Box 307
Maywood, CA 90270 USA

Raul Blacksten, 1996