A new way to reach kids: Todd Trainor hopes Aircraft Trading Cards will inspire dreams of flight

Like many good ideas, Aircraft Trading Cards was born because of a young child’s dreams.

Todd Trainor’s 6-year-old nephew was bitten by the flying bug after a Young Eagles flight. And, like most kids these days, he also was fascinated by the Pokemon cards that are all the rage today. Unfortunately, his mother said no to those cards, thinking the young boy would turn his attention to baseball cards. Instead, he called his Uncle Todd and said he wanted airplane cards.

After a quick search, Trainor discovered there was nothing out there, except old “spotter cards” from the 1950s.

“I thought, ‘hey, we’re on to something!” Trainor said.

He spent the next 10 months researching airplanes and putting a prototype together, which made its debut at — where else? — a fly-in at Trainor’s home airport in Brighton, Mich.

“The whole goal is not to have a boring card,” he said. “It was going to be something interesting to kids, because the goal of this is to get kids more interested and involved in aviation.”

Anyone who’s flown Young Eagles knows that once the aviation bug hits, “kids can’t get enough aviation stuff,” he said.

That first ride is a great start, but kids need something else to focus on — something that will help prolong the memory of that flight and the dream of many more flights to come, he said.

“I call it feeding the appetite for all things aviation,” Trainor said.


The first set of trading cards is a series called “Maiden Flight.”

“In the spirit of aviation, this first series is called ‘Maiden Flight’ because it is a test to see if this idea will fly,” Trainor said.

Each pack has 11 cards. Eight are aircraft cards with full-color photos of the airplanes on the front and “interesting” information on the back.

“It’s not statistics or specifications, but stories and the historical significance of the airplane and anything else that might be memorable about the airplane, such as a nickname,” he explained. “I also decided that I wanted to feature aircraft that a child is most likely going to see at an airport, a museum or an air show. While some people tried to pressure me into doing military jets and concentrating just on planes from World War II — they thought Piper Cherokees and Aeronca Champs were boring — I said the Stealth bomber is not necessarily something the kids are going to see at their local airports. The whole idea of getting kids involved in aviation is to make it more tangible — more real.”

That’s why he decided to represent all categories of aviation, ranging from World War I and II, antiques and classics, homebuilt and kit planes, seaplanes, ultralights, lighter-than-air, and more. There are 121 cards in the first series, with 88 aircraft cards, 22 trivia cards and 11 fact cards, which double as the top card in the pack. Each pack sells for $3.

Trainor’s first customers were two boys in Brighton “who immediately recognized the value of the cards and scrounged up $9 to buy three packs,” he said. “The next weekend they were at another Young Eagles event with a fistful of crumpled dollar bills because they had saved their money hoping I would be there. They bought another pack each and one boy was really disappointed that he didn’t get his favorite, which is the Blue Angels.”

So Trainor did what any good card collector does — he traded with the boy.

Later, when he went into putting together the production version of the cards, he approached the boys’ mothers and asked if they wanted to help write the text on the backs of the cards. Trainor and the mothers coached the boys on how to research the planes and how to write the descriptions, keeping it to just 170 words. “That was personally very rewarding for me and the boys,” he said. Other contributors included college students, including a photographer who is attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

That photographer is one of 56 photographers, from 18 different countries, who snapped 177 photos for the original 88 cards. “Many of these photographers are aircraft spotters,” Trainor said. “They love to spend countless hours at airports waiting for aircraft to take off, land or taxi into a perfect photo opportunity. Publishing their photos is a great tribute to their passion and patience.”


A project manager for Hewlett Packard, Trainor, who has been a pilot since 1987, now flies a Cardinal RG. He also owns two Aeronca Ks that are in the process of being restored.

“I’ve been involved in aviation since I was 4,” he said. “My father, Tom Trainor, flew his restored Aeronca K the day they landed on the moon, June 20, 1969. He has been my inspiration for all aviation. I lost him last year.”

The market for the cards is, first and foremost, the aviation community, according to Trainor. The next market is the trading card collector, made up primarily of adults. “They have different needs,” he said. “Those collectors want chase cards, which are hard-to-find cards. This set is a base set. It doesn’t contain any rare cards.”

The third market is the general public. “My goal is to get into Target and Wal-Mart, because then I can start promoting the passion of aviation outside of the aviation community.”

He plans to follow up the cards with a DVD slide show of photos of planes. “Kids are drawn to pictures of planes,” he said.

The “Maiden Flight” series will be a limited run, but the next series — which will be dubbed the “Official Series I” — “will be remarkably similar to this one, but it will be a larger run,” he said. “Only a few people will have the ‘Maiden Flight’ series, so it will be a collectible.”

He plans another series that will feature different aircraft. “Then I may add chase cards and hard-to-find cards, as well as autograph cards like from the Blue Angels or other air show pilots,” he said.

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