A unique confluence of events created a cultural phenomenon around the beginning of the Second Age in The Blue Sea region of The Greater Continent. Called simply 'Air Culture' by the locals, it centered around the use of light aircraft ubiquitous at the time. The era was immortalized in popular culture and remained a fruitful setting for adventure stories for many ages to come. Merres and Ella Cornwall were some of the most famous examples of the era.
In the early Second Age, the Foundation was carrying out an extensive modernization program in the region of Modia which involved replacing tens of thousands of outdated aircraft. Many of these were quite new, but recent advancements in fuel cell technology had allowed them to drastically decrease the amount of fuel required.
These were primarily light reconnaissance, cargo, and VIP-transport aircraft, all propeller-driven. A few had mount points for weapon systems but none had ever been classified as combat vehicles. This was one of the largest sales of military vehicles in then recorded history, as even the older Gudersnipe Army had kept most of its equipment.
As was standard practice at the time, the Foundation entertained offers from various brokers, intending to sell the planes en masse to civilian agencies, which would in turn sell them individually or in lots. On the eastern side of the Greater Continent, the region known as The Blue Sea was desperate for inexpensive aircraft. The thousands of islands in the area relied heavily on bush planes and sea planes for trade, mail, and passenger services. Zathra had no local aviation industry, and locating new planes for the rugged conditions had often proved challenging and expensive, especially with the recent shifts to jet aviation, which was impossible to use in the remote, sparsely-populated area.
The Foundation was eager to unload the aircraft as quickly as possible, and the brokers from Zathra, who intended to import and resell the craft to the Blue Sea areas, had offered the best price by a wide margin. The Foundation signed the agreement quickly, and made plans to have the vehicles loaded onto ships for delivery. A single large trade mission was organized that would sail around the Northlands. Thousands of ships signed on and countless orders for various other goods were placed. Zathra, Narano, and the Blue Sea were eager to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain goods from the more heavily populated Brutish Sea region.
About half the ships had assembled when the discovery was made. Somewhere within the negotiation process, an error had been made in the conversion between local Narano currency and Foundation Gate Credits. It was quite possibly the most expensive misplaced decimal point in history: before accounting for the costs of transport, the airplanes were sold for about 0.001% of their actual value, a fraction of what they would be worth as scrap metal.
However, owing to tensions left over from the recent Ninety-nine-years war and the massive expenditures already made for the trade convoy, the Foundation decided not to re-neg on the deal, and to proceed with the sale. They were already set to make a tidy profit from convoy fees as well as sales of other goods being shipped to the region, so a deal was made with the brokers. The Foundation would fulfill the contract as-is if the brokers would agree in good faith to later pay back the transportation costs. Since the planes were being shipped primarily on atomic-powered cargo ships, this made the actual transit costs quite low.
The trade mission was a rousing success. In addition to importing large quantities of durable goods, the ships were loaded with locally-produced products to be returned and resold. Great profits were made, and in the end the Foundation simply wrote off the losses from the massive under-valuation of the airplanes.
Air Culture Emerges
When recite of the vehicles was made, the Narano brokers in Zathra discovered they had made errors as well. For the sale, aircraft had been divided into lots, and, owing to a translation error, the brokers thought each lot was for a single airplane and spare parts. This meant they had accidentally purchased 10 to 15 times as many airplanes as they had planned for.
Further, these were extremely rugged military planes designed to the highest standards of the Foundation. This meant they were durable, dependable, easy to repair, and could be maintained with very simple tools. Ideal for use in the sparsely-populated Blue Sea. The massive surplus, in turn, meant they had to be sold fast. In order to deal with the overflow, brokers began selling off aircraft in impromptu, simple deals, taking whatever they could get for them. Still a wide profit margin as they'd gotten them practically for free, but it turned into a madhouse. Fully working airplanes were sold, traded, and sometimes given away. The local aviation authorities were overwhelmed and had no ability to track or license the sales.
These planes were mostly very easy to fly and quite difficult to crash, and you soon had children as young as eight plying the skies. Airplanes spread all over the Blue Sea, and for a brief period buying one was as simple a choice as picking up a new radio or fishing pole. Flying schools popped up all over the region, and the ubiquity of aircraft led to a cultural revolution.
People living in the Blue Sea had long been known for their eccentricities. With so many thousands of islands it wasn't hard to find hermits or simply families that lived in isolation. Small communities of only a few hundred people were the norm, and self-reliance was considered an art. Despite it's proximity to the heavily populated Gamerstein Plateu, Narano, which lacked any significant natural resources or good soil, had remained very sparsely populated. This meant that, despite being on the ocean, the Blue Sea actually had a higher population density than most of Narano save for the delta.
The people were tough, intelligent, and adaptive. They took to the skies like a duck takes to water, and powered flight quickly became the new normal. Given their tendency for self-sufficiency, many islands had no compunctions about modifying their newly acquired aircraft. They tinkered with them, adapted them, and in many cases improved the designs. Radio was already ubiquitous and unregulated, and the popular culture was quick to adapt to the new trends.
With so many unqualified pilots, crashes and accidents did happen. Dangerous flying was the norm, and seen as a way to prove one's mettle. Very quickly, daredevil pilots grew into legends. All through the region, tales of escapades, narrow escapes, and rough landings were exceptionally popular, either real or sensationalized. The airplane was a simple of freedom, a tool of self reliance, and above all a way to explore and to travel. While most were used for their intended purpose, it still became a deeply-ingrained part of the culture.
Decline and Fall
It is important to understand that 'air culture' never really ended. The spirit of it lived on throughout the Alliance Era, and in many ways became as romanticized as the Golden Age. However, the airplane did become less common, and the air culture, therefore, became smaller.
The Foundation-built airplanes had been designed with an expected service life of 70 years, and built to operate far longer. While maintenance was not always proper, it was not difficult to keep frames in the air for over a century, with some aircraft still flying in revenue service after nearly two hundred years. The demand even spurred local production of aircraft engines, though these were expensive and not as robust as the originals. About the third century of the Second Age, while rusting relics were seen everywhere, only those generating income could continue to fly. A well-off family might still own their own plane, and every isolated community had one; but gone were the days when a child could buy one for the cost of a bicycle. Many still dreamed of flying, and a visible fraction attained that dream.
Air travel remained, and brokers continued to buy old planes for import. What changed was regulation: the aviation authorities finally caught up, licensing was instituted, and air traffic controls put into place. This made travel safer and put an end to air-piracy, but it also robbed the era of its mystique. The thrill, the danger, the adventure were gone. The airplane had become mundane.