Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let’s Get The Kids Involved

Opportunities are ripe for the next generation of pilots

I was probably no more or less dedicated to aviation than many other kids in the cadet squadron. Flying became my consuming passion, partially unrealized because of a lack of money. It took another decade to earn a license with 58 legal hours and another 50 unloggable hours. I count myself more lucky than tenacious to have hung in there and prevailed.

I don't see that enthusiasm much anymore. Sadly, few kids seem interested in hanging around airports these days just to enjoy the sight and sound of airplanes. Is some of the magic that attracted me and so many other aspiring Yeagers, Hoovers and Crossfields slowly fading away?

Late in the last century (can it really be that long ago?), I ran into an enterprising young man at the Coronado Airport in Albuquerque, N.M.—an airport now long since decommissioned—as I was preparing to fly home from the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He was probably about 15 and stepped up to admire my Mooney and asked if I'd trade a quick ride around the local area in exchange for a wash job. My airplane wasn't really dirty, but I admired the kid's chutzpah and accepted his offer.

By the time the airplane had been refueled, I had paid the bill and made a few phone calls, he had sprayed it off, wiped it dry and polished all the windows. It turned out he had a few hours of instruction and was eager for more.

I flew with him for a half hour or so, and he proved to be an excellent copilot, guiding my Mooney through the thin air above Albuquerque, looking down on several hundred hot air balloons still drifting above the city after the early morning mass ascension. He hoped to make it to the airlines some day, and if his enthusiasm was any indication, I'll bet he did.

Sadly, I don't see that level of interest in today's younger generation, though I don't fault them for their new priorities. The world has changed dramatically in the last several decades. Priorities are different; computer science, Internet technology, software developers and database managers are where it's at these days. The money can be spectacular.


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