Airplanes and automobiles. Both start with ‘A’. Both have motors. Both go fast. But if you’re at a party, which is more likely to be discussed? Answer: cars. Have you ever seen a really hot Super Bowl ad for a Cessna? How many television shows are about pimping your plane? How many times have you heard talk about a new airplane model, rather than the new Mustang (and I don’t mean P-51)?
Google ‘car blog’ and you get: “About 2,650,000,000 results” versus ‘airplane blog’ at 78,900,000. Cars win. So what is it about cars that gives them the popularity and more common obsession when compared to the faster, and mechanically more sophisticated airplane? Sure, you could say cost or attainability are factors, but those exist for exotic cars too, and greater numbers of people still worship them. I have a few other theories.
Theory 1) First Love: “Hell Yeah, I’ve Got a Car.”
In my case, it wasn’t much of a car… a 1983 Nissan Sentra with over 180k miles. Four doors, no power anything. That was my first ride; passed down from my father. And it was awesome. My friends got cars too. Mostly old beaters – but cars – and they loved them. These were cars that they worked on (back when you could do so without a computer); they enhanced, fixed, and raced themselves (my Nissan did 0-60mph in under a minute). Can you see that kind of experience as a kid, but with a plane instead? Not easily, unless you’re wealthy. (Really rich people probably give their kids a pilot and mechanic too….’awww, thanks dad!’) If you’re not rich, then a car is most likely the first vehicle you have access to. It’s your first gateway to freedom. And I suppose that’s a good thing because no date would go to prom with you in a self-modified airplane that cost less than a few tanks of gas.
Theory 2) Prevalence
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in Spruce Creek, Florida, you’re probably not surrounded by airplane culture in your daily life. You probably don’t have an airport in your backyard, and you probably don’t have a runway near your favorite restaurant, gym, or your job (exceptions exist of course). Cars are around us everywhere, every day. Take the aforementioned party. Probably everyone there owns a car, and nobody owns a plane (barring exceptions again). So in some small way, everyone is a little bit of a car expert. The same cannot be said for aircraft.
Theory 3) Licensing
DMV agent to new driver: “Lets see.. you nearly ran a red light, missed a stop sign, and tapped a parked car….. pass”.
New driver: “Whoa, cool.”
You probably wouldn’t hear ‘pass’ from a performance like that on a check ride. The point being that pretty much anyone can drive, and they do. This further lends to car appreciation en-masse. From 15 year old learners to 99 year old great-grandmothers, they all drive. And if you were lucky enough to get your driver’s license in a state like Arizona when you turned driving age, you can pretty much drive until you retire without renewing. Of course, that’s also not so for aircraft operation. While the Sport Pilot rating relaxes the rules a bit, you still have to prove more hours flying than you would driving in most states. And then you have to pass a written exam where you probably can’t just guess the answers from years of observation.
So to get licensed driving a car you need: no major laws broken and only partial blindness. For flying you need: many hours training, written tests, physicals, all at moderate expense. Oh, and type certs… could you imagine having to get rated to drive a Honda Accord because you learned on a Civic?
Theory 4) Sex Appeal
Perhaps the most obvious suspect in the plane vs. car attention war is looks (maybe it’s the first theory…feel free to re-arrange the order). If you’ve seen a Piper J-5 (pictured above), you would probably agree it’s not in the same class as a Porsche or a Ferrari (also pictured above). The simple fact is that light, ‘affordable’, general aircraft have been mostly designed to be utilitarian.
Plus, planes must follow the principles of aerodynamics and there are inherent limitations there. So car designers have more freedom with less drastic consequences to make a car look good. Aircraft designers must first focus on the aircraft’s performance, safety, features, and cost. I would imagine in aviation looks come into play last. Cars, however, have the big advantage here in that they are firmly planted on the ground, and can pretty much look like anything.
You can put all kinds of crazy attachments and decoration on a car and it still drives, no problem. Do the same to a plane and certain catastrophe would be inevitable.
So, for light, general aviation vehicles, unless you love the look of airplanes in general (I do, but I imagine most people don’t), even a good looking Cessna 182 or Diamond DA-40 just doesn’t have the same appeal as say, a Corvette.
I’m sure there are many more reasons that automobile ‘gear heads’ and car aficionado’s seem much more prevalent in today’s world. The four theories above are derived from my very UN-scientific observations and analysis. Feel free to suggest more.
NEXT: Why my theories are all crap.
Other photos: wikimedia.org