Although it's a melancholy memory now, I had the pleasure of chatting with our soon-to-be-lost adventurer Steve Fossett at AirVenture '07. Our topic was the ongoing quest for world records. Specifically, how the connection happens between those who want to set them and those who provide various critical ingredients.
I wanted to know whether guys like Steve have to dig around a lot to hunt down record opportunities based upon an inside knowledge of an enabling technology, or whether the technology people bring their ideas to the people who are known to be out setting records.
It seemed pretty likely to me that someone like Steve Fossett would be approached regularly with ideas and mission hardware, and he confirmed this for me. But he also had agendas of his own, ones that required coaxing the necessary hardware into existence in many cases. I can see how this worked in his case, but what about the people who want to set a world record in aeronautics who aren't as famous or self-funded as he was?
As a child I had often thought about how it would be cool to set a record doing something- anything, really, but aside from a brief contention for the downhill speed record on a snowboard I never gave it serious consideration as an adult. Yet recently, one of the unexpected side effects of my aero studies was the discovery that there are huge numbers of longstanding aviation records affected by the introduction of game-changing new technologies for drag reduction. There will be a lot of world records shattered in the years ahead!
This raises the question I asked Mr. Fossett. If there are people out there who have been nurturing vague notions about contending to set or break a particular record or class of records, and people like myself who have yet to publicly demonstrate strong assertions about their new technological developments, is it practical for them to join forces in advance of public disclosure, or must everyone wait until either a 'world record wannabe' becomes a famous aviator or until a longshot breakthrough is suddenly fair game for all?
To his credit Steve lit right up on that one, and we quickly found common ground in the difficulty of the process and the determination required on both sides even when clearly seeing things the same way.
And then he was gone. My interest in hunting down record seekers went away too, while the question of whether there are really any out there who are as keenly interested as he was remains unanswered.
This posting seems halfhearted to me because I really doubt there are any Fossett proteges trawling around our forums seeking competitive advantage. I don't personally have the time or inclination to throw a wider net, and on that basis alone I felt writing this would most likely be a waste of time. Last week, though, I started to wonder how many ordinary, average people would jump at the chance to do something extraordinary, if only they knew what I know.
Well, here's what I know. There are no safe records anymore. Pick one.
Before everyone writes to point out that money is what really makes airplanes fly (with Fossett's bankroll prima facie) please understand that those who get what I'm saying to them know two things: One, not necessarily. Determination plays the larger part. Two: it comes with the territory. One of the reasons I never fantasized about trying to set a world record is that I don't fantasize- either you've got a shot, or you don't. If you suspect that with the right chemistry and advisement you might have one, I can say from my vantage that you probably do. Let's talk.