Teaching the next generation

Recently I witnessed an exchange between father and teenage daughter. The daughter, a student in the inaugural class of Seattle’s Aviation High School, was begging her father to let her start her flight training now. She is 14.

“No, not until you’re older,” he said. “I don’t want to spend all that money and have you forget all of it before you are old enough to get your license.”

She offered to pay for the lessons herself, but Dad still said no, arguing she’d only be able to fly once a month. It was better, he said, if she saved her money, finished ground school, and then, when she was of legal age to solo and be licensed, knock the training out in one summer.

Although I wanted to argue in the girl’s favor, I realized Dad had point. The time lag between lessons and solo will adversely impact the learning curve because concepts have to be relearned each lesson. It’s a challenge for both the instructor pilot and the student.

When Cleo Chamberlain, a CFI in Rodeo, N.M., started working with a 12-year-old boy in 2002, she realized he wasn’t going to absorb much if he flew just once a month and used study materials already on the market.

“They are not designed for the pilot who doesn’t fly often,” said Chamberlain, who has been a CFI since 1985 and has more than 3,000 hours of instruction given. “There was nothing that I could give him and say ‘study this, I’ll see you in a month’ and have it work, so I thought I’d just make him a booklet myself.”

She created 12 workbooks based on FAR Part 61.87 (solo requirements for student pilots). Each workbook has a block on the front for the recording of when the next flight is scheduled, the instructor’s name and telephone number. The workbooks are kept in a three-ring binder for easy reference and assigned as homework between flights.

Nine of the booklets cover in-flight training. The remaining three are ground lessons about aerodynamics and aircraft systems. The black and white pages of the workbooks are heavy on illustration. There is one concept per page. At the end of each workbook is a series of questions the student must answer. The three-ring binder is labeled Youth Pilot Training Program.

“The way it works is that we go fly, then I give them a booklet, whichever one is appropriate to the flight,” Chamberlain explains. “I tell them to read it and answer the questions at the end of the booklet and before we fly the next time, we go over the questions to make sure they have the right idea. I have used the program with two kids now, with very good results.”

According to Chamberlain, working with children requires a CFI to be a little more sensitive to the non-verbal cues of the student.

“You need to be in tune with how they are perceiving things,” she said. “Every kid is a little different. Some of them have no fear, and others are quite fearful. You need to be able to read them and not go outside of that envelope.”

One of the more interesting aspects of working with children is that they literally grow into aviation.

“When I first started with Daniel, he had to sit on a pillow to see over the nose of the Cessna 152,” she recalled. “And now he’s taller than me! He has about 30 hours now and will probably solo in May on his 16th birthday.”

Daniel is Daniel Enriquez. As this issue was going to press, he was 15 going on 16.

“I have been flying for about a year and a half,” he said. “I’ve been interested in aviation since I was a boy. I plan to go into military aviation and then maybe to the airlines when I get out.”

Enriquez says he would like to fly every week, but it takes him some time to save up the money for each lesson. He pays $80 an hour for lessons in a C-152. “The books help me retain the information between flights,” he says.

Spurred on by the success of the booklets, Chamberlain has been talking with teachers at local schools to see about introducing them to more children.

In addition to being a flight instructor, Chamberlain is half-owner of Rodeo Airport (NM70) with her husband Rick. The airport, which sports a turf 6,000-foot runway, is listed on the Phoenix sectional as privately owned, but open to the public. Prior permission is required before landing.

Meg Godlewski is a senior staff reporter for General Aviation News and one of four people who regularly contribute to this column.

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