Just like Christmas morning

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.

Comments

  1. says

    Gentlemen
    This example is an appreciation of those who have provided opporortunities to a High School Students to gain knowledge in the real world.
    As I term the situation: It creates the SPARK in the mind of a 16 or 17 year old that says to themselves ” That’s Cool. I need to learn more about IT”!
    Through my years as a Pilot, Manufacuting Manager and now as an owner of a Flight School; I believe High Schools needs to increase Vocational Training Programs to prepare their students with a background in areas tha will benefit their futher development.
    My High School experience gave me those opportuninities. My futher employers appreciated my enthusiism and gave me challenges that increased my desires to take on greater areas of responsibilites.
    Every company needs to provide opportunities, within their ability, to help with programs that will light the Spark to move our current & future generations forward in preparation for their future.
    Jamie Beckett has the RIGHT IDEA
    These comments need to be distributed. Everyone has to determine what their Lifes work shoud be. High School Vocational Training provides that opportunity.

    Al Beckwith

  2. says

    Gentlemen
    This example is an appreciation of those who have provided opporortunities to a High School Students to gain knowledge in the real world.
    As I term the situation: It creates the SPARK in the mind of a 16 or 17 year old that says to themselves ” That’s Cool. I need to learn more about IT”!
    Through my years as a Pilot, Manufacuting Manager and now as an owner of a Flight School; I believe High Schools needs to increase Vocational Training Programs to prepare their students with a background in areas tha will benefit their futher development.
    My High School experience gave me those opportuninities. My futher employers appreciated my enthusiism and gave me challenges that increased my desires to take on greater areas of responsibilites.
    Every company needs to provide opportunities, within their ability, to help with programs that will light the Spark to move our current & future generations forward in preparation for their future.
    Jamie Beckett has the RIGHT IDEA>

    Al Beckwith

  3. says

    Jamie, ditto your thoughts about the students that attend the CFAA on the campus of Sun ‘n Fun. Since the school opened, our members and volunteers of the Silver Wings Fraternity (www.silverwings.org) have had the pleasure of working with many of them at our clubhouse, and watching them grow and mature.

    They are the smartest and sharpest teenagers we have ever met, they are very respectful to everyone, they appreciate all the assistance they receive, and unlike most kids these days, they want to be there and they know where they are going. What is really cool for them is they go to school at an airport, and many are learning to fly and are earning their licenses!

    The Sun ‘n Fun campus is the ideal place for this to happen. Thanks to FedEx, they now have a slightly-used Boeing 727 to learn in and on. As a 501c3 non-profit, Sun ‘n Fun pays most of the cost of their flying lessons as part of their overall aviation-centered educational mission. If anyone is looking for a great program to donate your money, or bequeath it in your will, you will not find a more efficiently-run set of outcomes than this.

    Silver Wings Fraternity members frequently get the chance to assist in their education. Last month, our newsletter editor arranged a tour of MacDill AFB in Tampa with the intent that most of the seats on the bus would be reserved for CFAA students. 25 of them enjoyed a fun day there, learning new things and being exposed to other aviation career choices.

    As you said, there is a bright future in aviation. As long as we continue to nurture young people like these, aviation will thrive and grow in this country. If you are in another part of the free world, and want to emulate the successes at Sun ‘n Fun and CFAA, make plans to visit and talk to the great teachers and staff. Start with their leader, a fellow named Lites, and he will put you in touch with the right people. Visit us at our Silver Wings Fraternity clubhouse next April, or our website, and learn more about how we can work together to help young people choose aviation.

  4. says

    There is something to be said about unreasonable feelings of optimism when fact and reality say otherwise. Its really something to be pushing these feelings for a future in the airlines. The same airlines where salaries are 50% to 60% less than they used to be. And when you are forced to retire you better have another career to go to because pensions are gone. Home life, not a problem you will be gone 18 days a month to fly almost 100 hours. Both are 20% higher than when flying the line was a difficult but good career. So your telling young people to go and spend between $70,000 and $170,000 for their education, then go fly a RJ for $16,000 a year. Im sorry sir but I spent a lifetime flying for Eastern and United and it is completely irresponsible for me to encourage young people to go into aviation and fly for an airline. And flying for fun? I’ve owned a great Cessna 210 for 20 years. I have only been able to afford to fly 4 or 5 hours a year for the last 4 years. Gas is just too expensive and that’s not going to get better. Aviation is just out of reach of the dwindling middle class. These are facts, black and white. Its one thing to blow smoke up everyone’s, but that wont change the truth. Captain William G. Miller United Airlines retired.

    • says

      Capt Bill; I assume we’re not to far apart in age – since you flew for Eastern (727’s or Electra’s?) and United (DC-8’s), when I interviewed with in the mid 60’s during the “hiring frenzee”;-Private/Commercial got you in! This was the LAST era for the “airline career” guy (or gal?). I realized that flying (pure piloting) wasn’t beffiting my personality – more marketing/sales and “deal making” was my niche and ended up selling airplanes, instructing, and partnering an FBO; then at the young age of 34, realized that aviation, regardless be it airilines or GA, didn’t offer me the thing that was a my biggest PRORITY – financial stabilty and security. Enough “galmore” – and gave it many devoted years, spinning wheels (not airplanes!) and accomplising “ZIP” financially – I left, in 1978, a little discruntled to say the least. I think Bill, what we have in the well meaning “Jamie’s” is this child like idealism and wonderment that so many just can seem to accept the REALIITY or truth and continue to live in a fanasty world. Many would say “WE” are negative and seeing the glass as “half empty”or is just that we have matured to a higher (mighty?) level?

      • Greg W says

        Come on guy’s the reality is not that the glass is half empty, the darn thing has a hole in it! In truth there has always been small profit in any form of aviation, the late 60’s to late 70’s were an anomaly. The axiom of “to make a small fortune in aviation start with a large one” has nearly always rung true. It is an industry for those who wish to make machines defy gravity or have the distant horizon be the view from there office window,not for those who wish only to make money.

        • says

          Greg; You had me worried – I thought “Capt Bill” and myself were “lone eagles”! On the “profit, or should I say non-profit of the GA enterprise, one will find that few, if any, are schooled or experienced in ANY business prior to their “leap” into an FBO or flight school. But for some ungodly reason, this overwhelming “passion” (blind?) and determined drive (overdose on Viagra?) sorry gal readers, no offense, and head strong attitude, and no matter what common cent$ advice against it – “Start with a million”…. – well you know the rest ! You might ask – WHY don’t we see more business people in GA – if there were , there would be no GA! You might find our Dec 2 blog, “Will BUSINESS ever come to recreational aviation”, on our sites; get-aviation.com or aviationbiz.us interesting. And Greg -we NEED comments – good, bad (ugly?) or indifferent! Thanks!

  5. says

    Well stated Jamie. I would invite anyone who doubts that aviation has a bright future to come and visit us at SunState Aviation. What they will find here (at our Kissimmee location) is a cross-section of aspiring pilots of all ages and walks of life who are enthusiastic about getting their licenses and ratings, excited about the new technologies and how it enhances the overall flight experience.

    At the Winter Haven location, they will see some of those enthusiastic Polk State College students you spoke of, zealously going after their ratings. If you are pessimistic about the future of aviation, you won’t be for long hanging around with these students!

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