There are some among us who feel aviation is in decline. I disagree, of course. You might even say I famously disagree, since I am prone to regular outbursts of unrestrained optimism in a public forum. It would be fair to go so far as to say I possess an almost evangelical zeal for aviation and its power to transform and enrich the lives of those who participate in it.
Do I overstate the point? I don’t think so.
Earlier this week I met up with a crowd of aviation freaks at a spectacular hub of aviation awesomeness. What a time we had.
The freaks were students from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and their chaperones. The adults were an even split of CFAA staff, SUN ‘n FUN’s educational workforce, and a contingent of administrators from Polk State College’s aerospace degree program.
My excuse for being there had to do with my humble role as president of the Polk Aviation Alliance, a unique combination of aviation-centric entities who have banded together in order to make the most out of what we all have to offer each other and the public at large.
The spectacular hub of aviation awesomeness was Jet Blue University, a three-story building on the outer fringe of Orlando International Airport. This is where the vast majority of Jet Blue’s employees receive the training required to fill their positions with the level of professionalism and customer service expected of them. It’s an amazing place.
The dozen high school students in our company were excited, but played it cool as best they could. They are teenagers, after all, and the teenager’s universal code of conduct requires an aloof attitude during most encounters with adults. Unfortunately, these kids failed that standard miserably. They were bright and alert and genuinely interested in what they would discover inside this bastion of aviation training.
They got more than their money’s worth, too. They got to enjoy the company of a slew of check pilots and line pilots who explained the basics of Jet Blue’s fleet to them. They learned some serious maintenance and troubleshooting techniques that are appropriate to the newer generation fly-by-wire aircraft that are increasingly taking over the marketplace. And they got to tour the full building, all three floors, and see what’s hiding behind closed doors and down hallways that snake out from the central core of the building.
The highlight of the day was that everyone, and I mean every single person who arrived to tour the facility, got the chance to sit in the pilot’s seat of an E190 or an A320 and fly the darned thing.
I don’t care if you’re a 16 year old who is thinking of a career as a mechanical engineer, or a mid-50s high school administrator who has never flown an airplane before — there is nothing like pushing the throttles up on a multi-engine turbine powered machine, accelerating down the virtual runway and rotating that beast toward the sky. The sim flies like an airplane, and everyone came away with the tingly feeling of joy that’s surprisingly familiar — just like Christmas morning for a 6 year old.
Suddenly the term, “follow the flight director,” makes sense to them in a way it never did before. And flight no longer seems out of reach or beyond their realm of understanding.
I have seen the future, ladies and gentlemen — and it is largely made up of kids who we currently wouldn’t trust to borrow our cars. However, one day in the not so distant future, we will trust them to run our corporations, oversee our various levels of government, as well as expect them to design, maintain, and pilot the airplanes we fly in when we launch off to visit the grandchildren.
These kids are capable, confident, and on the right track. They may be special, but that’s only because they have been given opportunities they deserve to have and they’ve been asked to step up to the plate and deliver when it counts. They have done just that, too. And so have the team of adults behind the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, SUN ‘n FUN’s educational outreach programs, and Polk State College’s newly minted aerospace program.
If my day out proved anything it’s this: Any kid can be special if given the opportunity to fill the bill, and provided with the support necessary to reach that goal.
There is hope. There truly is a bright future for aviation in the US, and there is a new generation coming up behind us that is going to instill pride in those of us who are paying attention and lending them a hand.
Join us, won’t you? As the saying goes, you can’t help everyone, but you can help someone. So make a plan and help someone get started on the right path. You can do it. You really can. All you have to do is try.