When the sky called us

It was 110 years ago today.

Courtesy Library of Congress

The Wright Brothers feat, of course, ushered in an era of wonder. Barnstormers, often pilots who learned their skill in war, traversed the nation, dropping into fields in the middle of nowhere, while townspeople raced to see the newfangled contraptions and, if they had the money, experienced what it might be like to “defy gravity.”

There’s still a generation of pilots who learned to fly in World War II or used the GI Bill to learn to fly. They still tell stories about riding their bikes to the local airfield, hoping to catch the eye of a pilot who’d offer them a ride.

Those days are over, though.

Kids don’t ride their bikes to the airport anymore. And even if they did, the “security show” tells them to get lost.

Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie (MPR Photo/Bob Collins)

In 1978, U.S. general aviation airplane manufacturers delivered 17,811 planes to customers. As recently as 2010, the number dropped to 1,300. Despite an exploding population, the number of private pilots in the United States is about half of what it was in 1952.

“Back in the good old days, when people found out you were a pilot they often said that they always wanted to do that,” longtime aviation writer Richard Collins said. “Now they are more likely to ask why you would want to do that.”