By CONNIE SUE WHITE, Flying managing editor and Sun ’n Fun Today guest writer
The scene of the Martin family relaxing Wednesday morning in the Vintage Area at Sun ’n Fun next to their just restored 1946 Fairchild, is captivating for more than one reason. A young family camping next to an antique airplane they flew nine hours from Pennsylvania to be at this year’s fly-in speaks volumes in that it is exactly what general aviation needs to see more of to survive.
Jonathan Martin, who spent 5,000 hours of the last four years restoring this beautiful antique, has made fostering a love of aviation in today’s youth his mission beyond his family. He founded and runs the Future Aviators Summer Camp out of the airport he manages, New Garden Flying Field in Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania.
“If you look around, today’s pilots are getting older and older,” he says matter-of-factly. “We need to keep general aviation alive by getting youth involved.”
In its fourth year, the day camp for kids 8-15 has expanded from one week to two weeks and Martin’s goal is to beat last year’s record attendance of 60 campers by at least 40. The program includes introductory flights, personalized logbooks for each camper, hot air balloon rides, and a field trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The results of Martin’s program are starting to show. He soloed two of his first-year campers in January for their 16th birthdays.
If you were to guess that Jonathan and Rachael have high hopes for their own kids to carry on their love for general aviation, you’d be right (jokingly, Jonathan says they don’t have a choice but to be involved). J.J., 6, can already hold altitude and turn to headings his Dad calls out and, for the moment, his 4-year-old sister Alyssa is happy to go along for the ride.
“Once J.J. can reach the rudder pedals, he’ll be able to do it all,” beams Rachael.
And in years to come, maybe there will be not just two, but three generations of Martins, sitting under the wing of a newly restored antique at Sun ’n Fun. We can only hope.
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