Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pilots or Planes?

I saw the movie “Red Tails” last month. It was an account of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black World War II fighter pilot squad. The squadron, which was sent to North Africa and Italy to escort white bomber pilots, consisted of some of the best fighter pilots in the Air Corps.

There was a key point in the movie, where they earned the right to pilot the “good planes”. 

Tuskegee Airmen initially were equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fighter-bomber aircraft, briefly with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June–July 1944), and then finally -  towards the end of the war - the fighter group acquired the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-51's red, the nickname "Red Tails" was coined. 

So, these amazing pilots started out with “crappy” planes and yet they were successful.  Then, they had less crappy planes.  Finally, after they were already heroes (many times over) they were allowed to fly the best planes of the day – the P-51 Mustang. So, here is my question: Does the best technology bring out the best in people, or do the best people make technology look “the best”?

I have made it a career selling and promoting technology. It started in 1983, selling “car phones” when the NYNEX® cellular network went live. With only 9 active cellular towers in the entire country, service was terrible, phone calls were well over $1 per minute and the phones themselves cost around $3,000 installed (drilled) into your luxury car.  Bag phones would not first appear for many years.

Just this week, I started using an iPhone®. 

Let that roll around in your head for a few seconds. I don’t know of many people on the planet that have been using (and selling) mobility longer than me. Since 1983, I have seen the wireless as well as the entire technology world - morph and change many, many times.

The first appearance of a mobile phone in a major Hollywood movie was "Sabrina" in 1954 ( Cellular phone networks were first put in place in 1981 in Scandinavia and Saudi Arabia, so the first cellular phone film appearance might have been in a Scandinavian film. Portable phones that could be put in jacket pockets only started to be available in the mid-1980s. In "Wall Street" (1987) by Oliver Stone, the Michael Douglas character makes extensive use of a hand-held cell phone. (

I'm pretty sure the first time I saw a “car phone” was in a James Bond flick in the 60’s. I'll have to check on the name, but I think James Bond had the first. I credit "Bond, James Bond" for my entire sales career.

Or....maybe it was Agent 99 with his shoe phone!

Or.... maybe it was James T. Kirk, with his Star Trek communicator.

Or……maybe it was Dick Tracy with his “watch phone”.

When you think about it, does technology make us look good, or is it the other way around?  Does technology even matter?  My laptop and the Internet have allowed me to post this blog on this wonderful Sunday morning, for the entire world to see, all within seconds of my fingers hitting the keys. But, it was my hands and my mind that really made it happen, not my laptop. Had I used an iPad, would today's blog have been any better?  My old (long since retired) IBM Wheelwriter® and Selectric® Typewriters did not seem like the right technology for this particular job.

The movie Red Tails reminds us to be thankful for the very talented hands and minds of the Tuskegee Airmen. And of course, to also be thankful for all of the factory workers and engineers who designed and built the amazing planes they flew – and thankful indeed for the mechanics on the ground that kept them in the air.

Just remember, the majority of the success of the Tuskegee Airmen came long before the most amazing technology of the day - the P-51 Mustang - ever made its first flight. 

Yeah, they sure don't make 'em like they used to...

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