Ask Why?


Ask Why? ~Guest Blogger Bob Meder NAFI Chairman Emeritus

One of the things I like to do when working with new CFI candidates is ask the question: "Why?" It's a technique I learned from someone at the St. Louis FSDO when I was starting out as a flight instructor. His technique was the same - always ask a variant of "why" or "show me where it says that." It's a great way of getting students to think through the problem and find the answer for themselves. Ultimately, it helps that person take ownership of material.

I bring this up, not because I have some thoughts about the specifics of flight instruction this week, but more about our role in aviation. Looking back on my life, I've been fortunate enough to have been on this planet for most of humanity's achievements in space, having been born a couple of years before Sputnik was launched. Because this past week encompassed the anniversaries of both the tragic Apollo 1 fire and Challenger accidents, I wound up watching a crowd-funded movie called "Fight for Space." Fight for Space makes the point that we made it to the moon with the Apollo program and have retrenched ever since. Although I don't fully agree with one of the film's commentators, Neil DeGrass Tyson as to the reasons for this, it is something that has dismayed me.

So what does this have to do with flight instruction and the "why" questions? Some of the people who inspired me to become a pilot and flight instructor were the heroes of NASA. Not just the astronauts, two of whom I've had the privilege of meeting, but the engineers, test pilots, program managers, etc., who took up the challenge of space with a capital "S." Those were exciting times for aerospace, filled with challenges, great progress, and, yes, sometimes tragedies.

The "why" to me is why have we faltered in this quest? There are myriad of reasons given, although I think some of them are excuses. All I know, from the perspective of 50 years later, is that we, as a society, lost touch with the magic of flight and space exploration. Not as instructors, pilots, aerospace engineers, or anyone else in the industry, but society as a whole.

I think it's time we take a frank look at these questions and find out why we lost that and how we regain it. Humanity needs challenges and those of us who are privileged to teach others about aviation can help rekindle that challenge. Why? Because as President John F. Kennedy once famously said: "We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Below is Kennedy's speech at Rice University in September 1962, which many scholars consider to be one of the best speeches about science ever made:

Robert Meder Chairman headshotBob Meder
NAFI Chairman Emeritus
NAFI #18567






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