In the great pantheon of mottos there may be none more pertinent than this: Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s short. It’s pithy. It’s easy to remember. Maybe best of all, it’s true. So with that in mind, I will make this suggestion: If you are a fan of general aviation, if you believe human beings benefit from the pursuit of big dreams, and if you wish you could do something to change the world — you can.
In fact, it’s fairly easy to do all of those things. At least, it’s easy to be part of a bigger machine that is doing those things. So rather than fret or fuss over not being able to do something all on your own that’s meaningful for general aviation and humanity as a whole, why not join a pre-existing team? They’re out there. They’re doing great work, and they would absolutely be better off if they had your help.
Let me mention just two organizations that are worthy of your attention and your consideration. There are others, of course. Pick the one(s) that appeal to you most. But pick one. Seriously. It’s an uphill journey for the folks behind these organizations. They work hard, sacrifice much, and expect little in return. So surprise them. Help them push the wagon up the hill. If we all work together, the heavy work seems lighter. Yet, ironically, the reward for success is every bit as sweet, no matter how many people it’s split between. So rest assured, if you help, you’ll be appreciated.
Two programs any aviation enthusiast should be aware of are Girls With Wings and Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy. Both are easy to find on the Internet, and both would benefit from a larger pool of supporters.
Girls With Wings is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is dedicated to bringing girls into aviation as equals. The founder and driving force behind Girls With Wings is Lynda Meeks. A former US Army pilot who is rated in helicopters and airplanes, Meeks noticed an abundance of aviation-centric toys on the market for boys, but few, if any, for girls.
Rather than complain about the disparity, she did something about it. Meeks set out to show girls of all ages that they too can dream of a life above the clouds, or anything else they can imagine themselves doing. She began speaking up and speaking out. Meeks has talked to literally thousands of girls about how to set goals and turn your dreams into reality. She’s addressed the gift-giving issue that originally sparked her militancy, too. Girls With Wings has partnered with Very Important Pilots LLC to offer an enviable array of aviation-oriented toys, books, and sundries that have a decidedly female appeal.
Perhaps the most important contribution Meeks and Girls With Wings have made to the half of our population that is traditionally left out of aviation career development discussions is a significant collection of role models who are listed on the organization’s website. Realistically, it is difficult for most of us to see ourselves in a position that seems out of reach unless we see a representation of ourselves in that position, a person we can relate to. Understandably, most young girls would not be drawn to aviation after seeing a movie like “Top Gun” or “The Right Stuff,” because none of the flying roles are filled by women. But a quick jaunt through the Role Models page on the Girls With Wings website will reveal an amazingly varied collection of women who range from general aviation pilots to airline pilots, to the first woman to fly as a US Air Force Thunderbird. Meeks herself is listed among that notable group of accomplished women, too. As she should be.
Another program of real merit that deserves your attention is Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy. This organization also takes the form of a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Founded by Dan Mikkelsen, a teacher in the California school system who believes exposure to aviation can help motivate and inspire teenagers, the organization sets a high standard for itself by focusing on exposing students to aviation through ground school, simulator flights, and as pilot in command of real aircraft. They also provide context for high school students by showing them real-world applications for math and science that might seem less than germane to their lives without the aviation connection.
It does not escape the notice of the Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy board members that women and minorities are far less well represented in the left seat of airliners than they are in the general population. This is one of the reasons why they focus their efforts on providing their charges with a strong understanding of aviation as a career choice, rather than on earning a private pilot certificate. This is no pie-in-the-sky program. It is intended to show teens a way of life, and a means of supporting themselves that they may never have imagined — and then helping them to set goals to make that opportunity become a real part of their educational and career planning.
Admittedly, there are other programs out there, many of which do great work. So many of the people behind the scenes of these programs work toward a better, brighter tomorrow without benefit of a salary or an expense account. They work from small donations, and they make every dollar count. They accept volunteer support in the form of time, too. Somebody has to spread the word. They need men and women to work their booths at aviation events and educational forums. They need to widen their reach, meet new sponsors, and expand their opportunities for improving education, opening doors, and enriching the lives of young people who had no idea aviation was an option in their lives.
Please don’t let these opportunities pass you by. When you can, donate your time. If you’re willing, share financial support, too. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We’ve got top notch designers who have already gotten the machine up and running. But your help will go a long way toward bringing it up to speed and setting out to reach the heights it was designed to achieve.
Consider the possibilities and the potential we might reach if you were involved, too!
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He maintains multiple blogs and interacts via the Internet at JamieBeckett.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com